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Community Physician Partnerships Taking Off in the North Zone

August 27, 2014

Local Residents Help Welcome Physician to High Prairie

Story by Lisa Peters; Photos submitted by Ken Matthews and Brianne Hudson

Dr. Brianne Hudson is a locum family physician who lives in Grande Prairie and provides coverage in northern Alberta. Born and raised in Edmonton, she graduated from the University of Alberta in 2011 and completed her residency in Grande Prairie at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in 2013. As a rural family physician, she always knew she wanted to practice in smaller communities but never intended to stay in northern Alberta.

“I came up here to train, not expecting to stay in the area,” says Hudson. “The reason I’m still here is because of the people I’ve met. The bulk of the work I’ve done is in Grande Prairie, but I’ve also worked in other areas, including Beaverlodge, High Level, Hinton, Edson, Swan Hills, and High Prairie. In general, the people are so cooperative and supportive. It makes it really enjoyable.”

Hudson adds that working at smaller sites is a great opportunity to develop relationships with colleagues, including other physicians and specialists.Craig and Ken Matthews

“I feel comfortable asking questions to our local specialists; they are so good and very helpful. It’s not always like that in bigger centres, but here, I know most of the people that I need to interact with to further patient care.”

These aren’t the only types of relationships that are unique to northern Alberta – community relationships also flourish as new physicians get to know the people who live in the area.

“I like the North because there's an element of spontaneity here that I really enjoy. The way people work together and how things end up coming together - it makes for memorable stories,” says Hudson.

One of Hudson’s most memorable stories is her experience getting to High Prairie to provide locum coverage at the High Prairie Health Complex.

Susan Smith, North Zone Physician Resource Planner with Alberta Health Services (AHS), made the call to Dr. Hudson.

“Locum physicians are very important to rural care, as they provide coverage to a community while their permanent physician is not working – perhaps taking time off, or away on vacation,” says Smith. “In this particular situation, we called Dr. Hudson and asked her if she was available to provide care in High Prairie on shorter notice than usual. She is great and very accommodating. We were thankful when she said yes.”

Smith says she remembers Dr. Hudson mentioning that she would fly herself to High Prairie in her own plane – a Cessna 182.While completing her medical residency in Grande Prairie, Dr. Hudson also received her pilot’s license.

“I was inspired to get my pilot’s license a few years ago, while on a road trip to Yellowknife. On the drive home, when I was getting fuel on a reservation, I came across an airstrip.”

After chatting with a local resident, Hudson realized how important the fly-in services were there, and found herself thinking how neat if would be is she could fly in to areas and provide medical services.

“It took me a bit longer to receive my pilot’s license than most people, because I had to balance it with my work at the hospital. But it was a great experience,” says Hudson. “It helped that there are several other physicians in town who are also pilots. It’s nice to have something we can share outside of medicine.”

Having never been to High Prairie before, Smith arranged for someone local to meet Dr. Hudson when she arrived at the airport.

“We’ve worked with Ken Matthews a lot in that area,” says Smith. “He’s very involved in local health care services, so I knew I could count on him.”

Matthews has lived in High Prairie since 1971 and has been on the Municipal District (MD) of Big Lake Council for eight years. He is now Reeve for the MD and is also involved with the High Prairie and District Community Health Foundation, and serves as the Chair of the AHS Health Advisory Council for Lesser Slave Lake.

He greeted Dr. Hudson at the airport and was going to lend her his own personal vehicle to use while she was working in town. Matthews’ son Craig is also a pilot, and just happened to be at the airport when Dr. Hudson arrived.

“The two pilots had a lot to talk about,” says Matthews, “And Craig offered to take her for a tour of the area in his plane and land at my farm, on a grass landing strip there. It was a great idea.”

“I think what impressed me was Ken’s openness,” says Dr. Hudson. “We had never met before, and he was really willing to go out of his way to accommodate me – meeting me at the airport, lending me his vehicle - and that’s a nice feeling. You don’t always get that in bigger centres. And of course, getting a tour of the area in Craig’s Citabria plane and landing for the first time on a grass strip was so much fun.”

But Matthews says that’s just the way it is in northern Alberta.

“If you go into the rural areas, things like this happen a lot. There are many people with the same mentality, stopping to help others,” says Matthews. “We have difficulty getting physicians to rural Alberta, so I would certainly do anything I could to help make this a better place for them to work. Maybe Dr. Hudson isn’t working here permanently, but we want her to come back. Or maybe she’ll tell someone about her experience here, and influence a colleague to come work or visit.”

Matthews adds that it is both challenging and rewarding working to recruit physicians.

“It needs to be the work of the community. This includes involving local town council and working together with health care officials, doing everything that you can. Someday, somewhere, we are all affected by health care so it’s important that communities keep working at it.”

Matthews says that his family has recently spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals, and is grateful for the care they received.

“The staff genuinely care, and they do everything they can to help others. If I can give back in any way and return some of that care, I will.”

Matthews adds that they hope to see Dr. Hudson again.

“Any time she wants to fly in, she can land on my farm. She is welcome anytime.”

“It’s because of relationships like these that make northern Alberta a unique place to live and work,” says Smith. “Physician recruitment is not a one-person job and community partnerships play an important role in the process. They are invaluable and sometimes – no pun intended – really take off.”

For more information about physician recruitment in your area and how to get involved, visit http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/hac.asp or contact your local Health Advisory Council.