Dr. Tara Lee is the director of the College of Medicine’s Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship program.

Rural retention key to new MD student course

College of Medicine students at the University of Saskatchewan are taking part in a first-of-its-kind provincial program this year.

The MD students began placements in the new Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (SLIC), recently launched by the College of Medicine. They will spend all 48 weeks of their third-year program in a single location, rather than moving through a series of six-week specialty-based rotations in a variety of urban, rural and remote locations.

SLIC Director Dr. Tara Lee, who practices family medicine in Swift Current, has seen first-hand the benefits when medical learners are part of health-care delivery in regional and rural settings. She led the establishment of the family medicine residency program in Swift Current, and saw it dramatically change that community’s ability to attract and retain physicians, while improving the strengths and competencies of the care providers who worked with and trained the residents.

“The two main reasons I became SLIC director are to improve our retention of Saskatchewan-trained doctors in our rural areas and smaller centres, and be part of introducing this much-needed approach to medical education here,” Lee said.

What differentiates the SLIC from rotation-based learning is the opportunity for students to be a longer-term member of a health-care team, to follow patients over a continued course of care, and to gain substantial, uninterrupted rural medicine experience.

“While this is not new in Canada, it’s new to Saskatchewan and for our students,” Lee said. “It’s an excellent way to learn. These students become immersed in these communities and the relationships they form—with their physician supervisor and other health-care providers, with patients, and with the community—are an integral part of the experience and their learning.”

Starting this year, students are now being placed every year in Estevan and Meadow Lake.

Braydon Hager applied for a placement in Meadow Lake to experience more patient-centred care and for the longer-term learning relationship with the smaller team the program offers. Through SLIC, he said he believes he can “get a well-rounded, concentrated experience in a rural environment” to help him discover the areas of medicine he’s most interested in and suited for, and that he can “work in a rural setting while experiencing a wide range of patient needs.”

Also in Meadow Lake is Evan Mah, who was originally interested in orthopedic surgery and found his focus shift to rural family medicine during his medical studies, in part due to experiences in Wolseley and Indian Head, and by talking with rural physicians.

“I want to be able to experience fully what it is like for a rural physician to have a full practice, from procedures in the operating room, on-call in the emergency department, managing in-patients, seeing patients in clinic, and possibly even participating in out-post clinics,” he said.

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