B.C.: Dr. Bert Kelly advocates locally trained doctors
Local education is key as doctors trained in the area more likely to stay in remote and rural communities
Photograph by: Brent Braaten
PRINCE GEORGE — Much has changed in northern B.C. since Dr. Bert Kelly moved here from Scotland in the 1970s.
Kelly, the longtime executive director of the Northern Medical Society, has been a prominent advocate for some of those changes, including the creation of the northern medical program at the University of Northern B.C. and the BC Cancer Agency Centre for the North at the University Hospital of Northern B.C.
“The North is a great place to practise medicine,” Kelly said. “I’ve spent darn near 40 years up here, and it’s been a very rewarding 40 years.”
Kelly was recruited to come to northern B.C. in 1975 by a friend from Scotland who had gone over before him.
“In the 1970s, there was a big exodus (of doctors) who were really refugees from the (British) National Health Service, and I was one of them,” he said. “Scotland has always played a big part in the genesis of Canada. To come over here for a Scot, it’s very easy to adapt. The attitude to life is very much the same.”
“Prince George is Glasgow, Scotland, in microcosm. I’ve always felt at home here.”
Scottish doctors are not the only ones to found a home in northern B.C. Since the 1970s, immigration of international doctors has been key to sustaining health care in the north.
“The 1980s saw the influx of the South Africans. We have physicians coming from Africa, India, all over,” Kelly said. “But the South African supply is drying up. [And] these countries surely need their doctors more than we do.”
The key to sustainability for health care in northern and rural areas is to train doctors in the north, he said.
The northern medical program, which marked its 10th anniversary this year, and the medical residency program in Prince George provide physicians a chance to be involved in teaching the next generation of doctors, Kelly said. Kelly, who is a teaching physician at his family practice, said it is a rewarding experience.
And, according to statistics gathered by the northern medical program, many of the medical students and residents who complete their training in the north choose to stay in the region.
About two-thirds of northern medical program graduates end up practising in rural or northern Canada — and half of those in northern B.C. On average across Canada, only about 10 per cent of new doctors go into rural practice.
More than half of northern medical program graduates go into family medicine, higher than the 30 to 35 per cent national average for medical school graduates. Of doctors who complete their residency in Prince George, 65 per cent have gone on to practice in northern B.C. and another 15 per cent in other northern and rural areas.
Construction is underway on the $9.86 million, 1,365-square-metre Learning Development Centre at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. to provide a teaching space for the northern medical program, medical residents, UBC’s northern and rural cohort of its physical therapy program, and other medical programs.