The University of Alberta’s Yellowknife Family Medical Residency Program’s first two medical residents, Dr Thomsen D’Hont and Dr Kajsa Heyes, began training and learning at the Stanton Territorial Hospital and in northern communities earlier this year.
Program leads say this program will be the first in Canada to educate and train family physicians in the North.
The residents are working with Dr David Pontin and Dr Hannah Shoichet in Yellowknife, who co-lead the program. Pontin just recently moved from the emergency room floor to his family practice at Frame Lake Community Health Clinic and Shoichet is currently working in the emergency department at Stanton.
“They’ll have an understanding of all the communities and how the medical system in the North works, and essentially make great connections with the practicing community up here and just the community as a whole, which is unprecedented,” said Shoichet.
“There’s no other programs like this one across all of Canada, so in other jurisdictions like in Whitehorse, or in Iqaluit, they’ll have residents come in from Southern schools and do rotations, but no one is fully immersed and trained in the North like these two are here.”
Community experience part of program
D’Hont said he and Heyes are interested in seeing what the practice is like in various communities, and that he’s looking forward to exploring medicine in the NWT.
“We’re mostly based in Yellowknife, but we do get to go to a few smaller communities during our longer blocks of time in Yellowknife,” he said. “So, each of us gets to pair up with a community. Kajsa is going to Gametì and I’m going to Łutselk’e. And we each get to go there somewhat regularly … within the four month block that we’re in right now.”
Heyes said both she and D’Hont knew each other prior to medical school and said they both share a passion for medicine in the North and servicing rural and remote communities.
“We wanted to make sure that we were training for medical school in a northern kind of place,” she said. “So we actually did our medical training in Prince George, which is one of the more northern medical schools in Canada. You get a real breadth of lived experience and presentations and some of the most rare conditions I’ve seen in the North and in smaller regional centers.”
D’Hont and Heyes said they knew they wanted to go into family practice, although Heyes said she didn’t start out quite as focused as her cohort.
“I went into medical school thinking I would go into family, but knowing that surgery would really pull me,” she said. “And then when I was going through all the different rotations, I just seemed to want to do everything and couldn’t really figure out how I was going to choose. But then I think at some point I realized that I am truly a generalist at heart and should be doing all the things and trying to treat all the different populations, and the versatility and the variety is what really keeps you on your toes and keeps you not bored.”
D’Hont, who was born and raised in Yellowknife, said being close to family and friends definitely helped in choosing to do the two-year program in his hometown.
“I think a few other things too really played into it, including having the opportunity to do residency training in a place that I want to practice in the future,” he said. “I think it’s really valuable to get to know your fellow healthcare workers in a location and to get to know the health system well during residency, before you have the full responsibility as a practicing doctor. So I think that that made a lot of sense to do my final stage of training here.”
Heyes, who grew up in Vancouver, said the experience of training in smaller communities like Prince George was really rewarding.
“It’s been both wanting to serve the rural populations and do the work that needs to be done in the places that it needs to be done in, but also very selfishly, it’s really rewarding for me,” she said. “So that’s kind of the reason why the Yellowknife residency program was so attractive to us.”
Training where they intend to practice
“The propensity for medical trainees is to work where they’ve trained and where they develop comfort in relationships and mentors,” said Shoichet. “We already have a really great medical community up here but it’s going to be even greater.”
The residency program is ongoing, said Shoichet, adding the plan is to expand to have more residents in the program in the next five years.
“Jurisdictions of our size would be very happy to train six residents per year, which would be 12 in total in a program,” she said. “That’s a bit pie in the sky, but it’s something that we’d be looking toward in the future.”