If there's one thing to be learned from today's feature story about how Fort St. James went from having one overworked local doctor and an emergency room open from time to time to five full-time doctors living and working there, it's the power of a united community.
It was the power of community that got behind Northern B.C. having its own university and it was the power of community that demanded a medical school and more active recruitment of doctors to deal with Prince George's doctor shortage 13 years ago.
Instead of throwing up their hands in despair and claiming nothing could be done, Fort St. James residents got together. They formed a non-profit society to operate the clinic and then they got to work on recruitment.
Rather than rely on a cash incentive, like the recent $100,000 offer to doctors to set up shop for three years in rural B.C. locations, Fort St. James residents showcased themselves and their community proudly.
The golf course, the ski hill, the national historic site, Stuart Lake and the incredible outdoor recreational opportunities in all four seasons were put on display. But visiting doctors weren't just given the generic town tour. Based on the interests of each prospect, a two-day tour of the community and its amenities was arranged, specifically tailored to that individual.
That two-day tour also focused on giving the visiting doctors unique experiences for them to take away. Residents saw to it that whether the doctors chose to set up their practice in Fort St. James or not, they would leave with an unforgettable experience, from being given quail eggs at the national historic site to seeing how traditional First Nations medicines, gathered from the surrounding area, could be part of a patient's treatment at the local health centre.
Having a full slate of doctors is huge for Fort St. James, in the short and long term. Community health will improve as residents receive hands-on care sooner. Professionals, young people and families will be more willing to make Fort St. James home knowing that their health concerns will be addressed by doctors living in the community with them, rather than being parachuted in from other communities from time to time.
Fort St. James residents didn't wait for the provincial government or the health authority to fix their problem. They took ownership of the situation, they created a made-in-Fort St. James solution and they made it work.
Their model for success can now be applied to other isolated rural communities in Northern B.C. desperate for more doctors and better health care.
That's what the power of a united community looks like.