Celebrating 10 years of rural community care

The UAlberta Rural Integrated Community Clerkship steeps MD students into rural practice.

15 September 2017

The University of Alberta's Rural Integrated Community Clerkship (ICC) is marking a decade of immersing medical students into the daily of routine of rural physicians, and exposing them to a veritable range road of hands-on experiences in the operating room, delivery room, patients' homes and the hospital inpatient ward.

Rather than completing their core rotations in Edmonton, the Rural ICC program gives third-year medical students the opportunity to spend approximately ten months living and learning in northern and central Alberta rural communities, where they are based in family medicine clinics under the coaching and mentorship of local physician preceptors.

Program participants a decade before, now preceptors

Andrew Halladay completed ICC in 2011-2012. He now practices as a comprehensive rural family physician in Whitecourt and is a preceptor for ICC.

"The continuity of care was really meaningful," said Halladay. "The first patient I saw was a woman who was pregnant. Later, I was able to deliver the baby. That wouldn't happen in a regular rotational environment."

As a preceptor, Halladay sees first hand how the length of the placement allows students to develop deeper relationships with patients, helps them to learn their patients' histories, gain an understanding of the importance of continuity of care and develop a patient-centred approach to care. With so much hands-on and one-on-one experience, he says students' confidence and comfort levels grow quickly.

Halladay is one of several physicians and collaborators to trace the success of the ICC to the passion of Jill Konkin, associated dean of community engagement, at the program's helm this past decade.

"Thank you to Dr. Konkin for your commitment to rural medical education," said Halladay. "This is an excellent program; I don't think I would be as good of a doctor today if I didn't go through it."

Improving health care in underserved areas

Students who complete ICC are more likely to go into generalist specialties and work in rural or remote-urban communities, improving health care in those underserved areas. For students who do not choose rural medicine, ICC gives them a different perspective on medical learning and a fuller picture of how our health-care system functions that can benefit their practice in the future.

Enrica Tse was in the first year of the ICC program in 2007 and was placed in Sylvan Lake. She is now an OB/GYN in Grande Prairie. When she reflects on her time in Sylvan Lake, what stands out most is the people.

"I had very supportive mentors," said Tse. "The first experience I had with a patient passing away was during ICC. My mentor taught me how to grieve the loss of a patient and was tremendously helpful."

Established in September 2007, a team led by current clerkship co-coordinators Darren Nichols and Peggy Sagle oversee the day-to-day operation of the program today, coordinating with committed rural physicians in their respective ICC communities.

Over the past decade, ICC has placed 169 participants in communities such as Camrose, Edson, Hinton, Ponoka, St. Paul, Sylvan Lake, Westlock and Whitecourt.