Sicamous aims to recruit doctor

Pam Beech, manager of Sicamous Medical Clinic - File photo
Pam Beech, manager of Sicamous Medical Clinic
— image credit: File photo

A collaborative approach may be the way to entice physicians to locate in rural Shuswap communities.

This approach was on display in Penticton over the weekend at the Rural Emergency Continuum of Care conference, where a contingent from the Shuswap, represented by the Shuswap Healthy Communities Coalition, was attempting to sell the region and its rural communities – Sicamous, Chase, Sorrento and others – to doctors.

“We’re all going to be recruiting and helping each other in trying to present the Shuswap and our communities in a positive light to attract physicians, just get them to know that we are recruiting and also maybe, by being there, talk to them and find out exactly what our next generation of physicians, rural physicians, are really looking for and what would convince them to bring their families to these communities or agree to provide service to these communities,” said Pam Beech. “We’re starting to take very proactive and co-operative action towards this effort because we know we all have the same need.”

Beech manages the Sicamous Medical Clinic, where her husband, Jack Beech, serves as the community’s doctor. Jack turns 65 this year, and Beech says he would like to ease out of the practice. But he’s reluctant to do so without a replacement.

“He doesn’t want to do that. That would leave this community without a clinic, because he owns the clinic,” said Beech who, for the past six years has been trying to recruit for the clinic.

One doctor who had planned to take over the practice passed away.

A husband and wife team of doctors who had planned to visit the practice wound up losing interest on the way. Beech said they made it to Vernon where they were told “there’s nothing in Sicamous for your family.” For Beech, this emphasizes the need for a collaborative approach, between rural practices and their respective communities.

“Because I’ve been through this, I know it’s not just about what we do, but how we, as a community, work together,” said Beech. “It’s about our whole area recognizing where the needs are, where the doctors are needed, and everybody working together to support the concept that rural communities deserve to have doctors, and how can we best help them to get their doctors.”

Beech notes that what’s happening in Sicamous is happening throughout the Shuswap. The South Shuswap, for example, has a nurse practitioner but no doctor.

“The North Shuswap has two doctors, but they have made it clear they want out of the practice… so they’re recruiting as well,” said Beech, noting rural communities are often isolated in a sense that they do not have adequate (if any) transportation systems that can connect them to the services patients need. For those who have access to transportation this is not such a big issue, but for communities like Sicamous, with a large population of seniors and people on limited incomes, this can be a problem. And this, she says, can define a practice and the responsibilities rural doctors have to take on.

Beech notes the B.C. government and the Interior Health Authority have both recognized the need for doctors in rural communities and are making an effort to fill it. However, she feels more can be done, such as incentives to help cover the cost of tuition for physicians fresh out of university, such has been done to attract doctors to northern communities.

The issue of Jack’s retirement has come up on more than one occasion at Sicamous council. Coun. Suzanne Carpenter has become involved in the recruitment effort and, at a recent council meeting, stated the problem is global, and that “it’s a whole new world out there as far as what doctors want from a community.”

“So basically, we’re going to have to go and sell ourselves to bring a doctor here,” said Carpenter. “We’re really lucky in our community that we have a local doctor who lives here, Dr. Beech, and whenever you see him, say ‘thank you,’ because there’s not too many places that have a doctor who stays around.”


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