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First Northern Medical Program grad returns as specialist

It's all about community for the first specialist who has returned to Prince George after graduating from the Northern Medical Program.

It's all about community for the first specialist who has returned to Prince George after graduating from the Northern Medical Program.

Alym Abdulla graduated from the local program in 2009 and, after nine years of education, including specialized training in urology in Ontario, returned to Prince George in August.

"For the most part it was the medical community itself and also the urologists that I had made connections with as a medical student," said Abdulla. "I kept in touch with them and they always mentioned the possibility of coming back to join the group. It worked out really well because I knew a lot about the community and I knew a lot about the people I would be working with and that's very important for a physician to know about before they make a career choice."

Dr. Paul Winwood, vice provost medicine, UNBC and regional associate dean, UBC faculty of medicine, said after a medical student has completed their education, including the specialty training, the fastest a specialist could get back here would be nine years and Abdulla is the first one, hopefully of many.

"Many of them will do further specialist training and that's another two to three years," said Winwood. "So then you're up to 11 to 12 years and then many of them will spend another five years doing locums - working different places before they settle somewhere. So nine years it as early as it could every have been and it's quite remarkable that Dr. Abdulla has chosen boom, that he wants to come straight back here."

There are other reasons Abdulla decided to return to Prince George.

"I was able to do a lot more outdoor activities before getting into medical school and that was on hold for the last nine years and now that I'm done I know there's a whole host of things that are out here that I enjoy doing," said Abdulla. "Pond hockey was always fun, I would like to try cross country skiing and I would like to work on my golf game."

Abdulla is filling a position vacated by long-time Prince George urologist Dr. Clark Jamieson, who recently retired. Recruitment efforts to find a replacement for Dr. Jamieson began almost a year ago. Including Dr. Abdulla, there are four urologists with practices in Prince George.

Abdulla has a proficiency for a minimally invasive surgery using a laparoscope.

"The best way to describe it is to say I am doing surgery with instruments small enough to fit through key holes and it avoids the use of a big incision," said Abdulla.

Those surgeries that use bigger incisions find patients needing longer hospital stays to recover, more pain post-operatively, and increased blood loss during surgery.

"This type of procedure is ideal for laparoscopic kidney surgery for kidney cancer," said Abdulla.

The four urologists also cover the northern half of the province and Abdulla is prepared to travel on a regular basis. It's too early to have a regular schedule but he knows he will have stops in Smithers, as well as Terrace when the urologist there retires.

"Those are the communities that would require some type of urologic care," said Abdulla.

Northern Health continues to work with partners including communities and the Northern Medical Program to recruit health professionals. In 2013 Northern Health was able to attract 35 family practitioners and 25 specialists to northern B.C., an increase of 16 arrivals from 2012.

"I think it's important for the community to know that it takes time to train specialists," said Abdulla. "I am coming out after nine years and there are people who trained with me in the Northern Medical Program that are still training. It will take time but the specialists will come and the building blocks are here in Prince George for them to thrive as specialists."

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