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First time farm experience for medical students

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Caitlan Lee is driving a tractor for the first time in her life — and she’s loving it.

“It was really fun. I wish I could have driven it for longer,” said the first year medical student, who hails from Toronto.

In fact, this was the first time driving tractors for all six first year medical students touring Bruce County as part of Discovery Week. A week-long of immersion into what it might be like for these future health professionals, to possibly live and work in rural Ontario.

“It was not expecting it. We kind of came into this week, not knowing 100 per cent what we were doing. So, being able to drive a tractor, see the cows and calves. It was amazing,” said Mila Huhtala, who lives near Windsor.

First year Western University med students pose for picture on combine at Huron Tractor near Walkerton, Ont. on June 1, 2022. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)Organizers of the annual medical students’ agricultural tour — the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture — say this is the first time that none of the students had any farming experience, or connection to a farm.

They say it speaks to the growing disconnect between urban and rural Ontario, which is something they’re trying to combat with this experience.

“Everyone knows each other, here. It’s like, 'Oh hey!’ I love that small town community feel, and we got that feeling in the hospitals here, too. Even in the workplace setting. You don’t necessarily get that as much in hospitals in Toronto or London,” said Huhtala.

The goal is to sway these future doctors with no ties to rural Ontario to consider starting their practice here, and the need is great.

Two emergency rooms in Bruce County were recently reduced to 12 hour service due to nursing shortages. There are an average of 260 farming-related injuries each year in Ontario — with 30 people on average dying from those injuries every single year.

“To actually see where those injuries could come from…the chemical and pesticides and machinery…that was really valuable to learn,” said Yasman Javadzadeh, who hails from the GTA.

Mila Huhtala and Yasman Javadzadeh taking pictures of calves at Ikendale Farms near Walkerton, Ont. on June 1, 2022. (Source: Joanne Hughes/Bruce County Federation of Agriculture)“I was already open to it, now I’m even more open, having experienced it,” said Huhtala, who says she’s very interested in opening a rural practice in the future.

“Even if I don’t end up in a rural medicine, I think it’s important to understand how a lot of Ontario and Canada works, rurally. A lot of patients that end up in urban hospitals are referred from rural hospitals,” said Lee.

“I was really interested in rural healthcare before I came, and this week just confirmed that for me. I definitely want to come back, and do something in rural healthcare,” said Javadzadeh.

If they do return, there will be more opportunity to drive tractors.

“Yes. Totally. A lot of fun things to do here,” the three first year med students said.

First year medical students from Western University have spread out across rural Ontario this week, as part of Discovery Week in order to learn more about the possibilities of taking their medical talents to Ontario’s countryside. 

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