University of British Columbia (UBC) medical students Erin Love and Bethany Woodrow are two of 30 recipients of the 2015 British Columbia Rural Interest Awards, a Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues (JSC) initiative managed by the Rural Education Action Plan (REAP). The Rural Interest Awards Program bestows individual financial awards of $5,000 to select UBC medical students . The initiative aims to support students of rural origin as well as students who intend to pursue a career in rural medicine.
In addition to both growing up in rural small communities, Love and Woodrow completed a year-long Integrated Community Clerkship (ICC) in Trail, BC in 2015. The ICC Program provides students the unique opportunity to work in a community alongside local physicians over the course of a year, for a longitudinal, multidisciplinary learning experience.
When asked about their strong inclination towards the rural lifestyle and rural medicine, many common threads emerged related to Love and Woodrow’s individual interests and their draw to rural practice. In addition to participating in the ICC Program and growing up rural, both expressed that the close-knit community, a deeper connection to patients, and the breadth/variety of medical practice are all reasons they hope to practice rural medicine.
Love’s interest in rural family medicine stemmed from being raised in Invermere, BC, where she observed, firsthand, the place of a general practitioner in a small town. The local GP acts in a “supportive role to all of the community members, who know them really well and rely on them,” Love explains.
The opportunity to adapt, grow, and change in rural practice is also appealing to Love: “Family practice offers a huge variety [and] you are trained to do a range of different types of medicine. If you work in a rural placement, you can do all those different types of medicine in your career [and] you can change your focus as you go”. Love is open to where her practice may take her, knowing that what she does will depend on what kind of a need there is in the community.
Because she is drawn to the variety and breadth of rural medicine, Love is very interested in and excited by the many areas of Family Practice. A continual theme for her throughout each rotation has been a strong interest and inclination to hear about patients’ stories and lives: “People’s stories affect me a lot. I take in what they are saying; I enjoy things they enjoy; I feel sadness when they feel sadness; so, I hear people who [tell] their stories in Family Practice and that keeps it exciting for me. I find that older patients have these amazing stories and amazing lives.”
According to Love, one of the challenges to being a rural doctor is that everybody (or almost everybody) knows who you are within your community. There is a need to balance professional and social relationships, particularly when you may run into one of your patients at the Rec Centre or local coffee shop. One upside to this, Love discovered, was when she was able to admire some of her handiwork (facial suturing) from afar at the gym when she noticed a young man didn’t have a scar after she had worked on him weeks earlier.
Growing up in a small farming community in central Alberta, Bethany spent a lot of her time outdoors in the forest and lakes, learning to make her own fun. When asked why she is drawn to rural life, she explains, “I like how communities work […] everyone gets engaged and pitches in.” This sense of self reliance and community is what draws her to rural medicine.
In her placements thus far, Woodrow has learned that being embedded within a community, having fewer layers of separation between doctor and patient, and having a role in keeping a community healthy are all compelling factors for her goal of being a rural physician. After completing the ICC Program in Trail, Woodrow appreciates having had the continuity of working with the same physicians throughout the year, as well as the opportunity to see patients in one place for an entire year rather than only one month.
This sense of continuity is a meaningful part of what she envisions in her career as a general internist in a small town. Woodrow hopes to work in a setting where she can balance both acute care as well as seeing outpatients. She explains, “there is more variety in what you do [in rural] and more problem solving because there is less specialist backup and fewer doctors around.” Caring for adults with complex medical conditions in a rural community is something that Woodrow is passionate about, and she hopes to one day “manage things that are normally managed in a city and to be able to use resources to manage them in a small setting, and feel confident doing it.”
Woodrow has already invested herself in the future of rural medicine by mentoring students in Selkirk College’s Rural Pre-Medicine Program. While meeting with these med school hopefuls over dinner one night, she gave them special advice about extracurricular activities: “I told them not to do anything just to get into medical school […] but instead to pursue things that they find really interesting and are really passionate about […] whether it be community engagement on a level that is different than being medical.” As Woodrow has continued to find her own role and unique ways of contributing to the communities in which she has worked, this piece of advice rings true as part of her own success.
Applying for the BC Rural Interest Awards
This funding is available only to select UBC medical students. may apply at the following stages:
- Upon entrance to medical school if the student is of rural origin;
- After third year if the student completed the Rural Family Practice Clerkship or Integrated Community Clerkship; or
- After fourth year if the student completed a four week rural elective (Year 4).
To learn more about the application criteria for these awards, visit REAP’s BC Rural Interest Awards web page.