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Medical students visit Bruce County amidst vast healthcare staffing shortages


First-year medical students from across Ontario are getting a taste of the countryside this week — and for many of them, it’s their first taste of farming life.

“I'm from Toronto, so there aren't that many farms there. We saw a dairy farm. Now we're on a corn farm. I haven't seen really any farms before," said first-year med student Alison Suter.

This mandatory weeklong placement in rural and northern Ontario, for students from Western's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, has been happening for the past 26 years.

Its purpose is to expose future doctors and health care professionals to small town health care in hopes that some of them will choose rural living over big city lights.

"What we're trying to achieve is to introduce the perspective doctors, for doctor recruitment into our rural areas and show them what the rural area is about,” said Chris Cossitt, president of the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture, which has organized farm tours for Western medical students for the past 16 years.

This year's medical student tour of Bruce County comes when health care in the region may be in its worst shape ever. There are at least two emergency rooms in the area, open only on a part-time basis, with more cuts to care looming.

The Municipality of West Grey recently declared a state of emergency due to the part-time closure of the emergency room, and movement of inpatient beds out of the Durham hospital.

Issues which are apparently due to a lack of qualified health care workers.

"We need as many doctors and nurses as we possibly can. There's just a shortage in rural areas that is so important for us to try to do and check every avenue that we can get, to try to get some extra doctors into our rural areas and hospitals and look after our society and our area," said Cossitt.

Whether or not it will work however depends on where you are from.

"So I think, for me at least, it depends on the specialty I go into. I'm interested in emergency medicine. I think there's a lot of pros to working in a rural center for emergency medicine, you can either do family medicine and a plus one, and then you get to do a lot of emergency medicine," said Suter.

"I definitely want to work in a small town, whether that's part-time or full-time. I think there's something interesting about it is that you have the whole community relying on you as part of to take care of their health care," added Leann Blake, a first-year Western medical student who grew up in Norfolk County.

Blake continued, "I would appreciate being someone that could step in where it's needed and help. I had a labor and delivery floor closed where I'm from. It was super detrimental to those living in the area. I think seeing the need and seeing how people directly being able to see how people are affected by that gives you sort of the incentive to want to step up and take on that role.”

Rural residents are relying on these future health care workers to like what they see on these weeklong visits, as keeping their small town emergency rooms and hospitals open likely depends on it. Top Stories

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