Rural, remote docs gather in Victoria

With advances in medicine coming at a seemingly breakneck pace, it's important for physicians in all disciplines to keep up with the latest developments.

This week 800 physicians working in rural and remote settings across Canada will gather in Victoria for the annual Rural Society of Physicians of Canada conference where they'll learn about everything from the challenges of dealing with kidney care in rural B.C. to the most recent studies on medical marijuana.

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The event is both organized and executed by doctors from rural areas, which makes the information that much more relevant to Vanderhoof-based family doctor Sean Ebert.

"It has a lot more relevance because they're often in similar environments," he said. "Sometimes it's the context and the environment that's as important as the knowledge you're trying to apply."

Ebert, who has attended the conference in the past both as a participant and an instructor, said the breadth of topics offered is impressive.

"The beauty of this course is that a tremendous variety of topics and skills training are available in one place," he said. "This kind of experience is very valuable to rural physicians who don't always have easy access to continuing medical education."

Ebert went through the nearly 200 workshops being offered at the three-day conference beginning on Thursday to find the ones he was most interested in. He eventually settled on emergency and critical care, First Nations care, chronic pain and a simulation course on critical pediatric care.

"I'm always wanting to update my skills in emergency and we do a lot of First Nations health so any updates around the areas of First Nations health I find very valuable," he said.

He's particularly interested in the simulation course, which uses a mannequin to create scenarios an emergency situation a physician may encounter.

"That's always a great way to learn," he said. "Simulation learning always gets your attention a lot more and gets your adrenaline going. That kind of hands on learning in a simulated environment is pretty effective."

Ebert and his wife Nicole are two of the three doctors from Vanderhoof attending the conference, but other doctors from around the north will be attending. For the doctors who can't make the trip to the provincial capital, Ebert and others will share what they've learned.

In Vanderhoof they have both formal and informal ways of passing on the lessons from the conference.

"We have weekly rounds and if there's something of particular interest we will do extra sessions as a group to review those kinds of experiences people bring back," he said.

That will be supplemented by the conversations the doctors have among themselves as they go about their daily routine.

On Friday at the conference there will be a special luncheon to launch the Mothers in Medicine program, which aims to help women who are interested in both becoming physicians and having a family. Given the intensive nature of the education required to become a doctor and the amount of work required once accredited, some women find the balance difficult.

"We want to ensure that young women graduates know it can be done...we've done it and we want to provide mentored support and policies that enable these young women to have a family at any point in their training or career," Rural Coordination Centre of BC professional development lead Dr. Mary Johnston said in a news release.

In addition to the luncheon, there's also entertainment ranging from dinner and dancing to a hockey game for the participating doctors.

As much as Ebert is looking forward to what he'll learn in the classroom later this week, he said having so many doctors from rural communities in one place means there will be lessons exchanged even after the formal lecture ends.

"The networking is really phenomenal," he said. "A lot of times the learning and experience exchange happens in between [sessions]. It's a lot of fun that way."

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