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Community Effort Helps Nurture Future Health Care Professionals

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
July 7th, 2024

Addressing health care shortfalls in rural British Columbia is the focus of a Selkirk College Foundation campaign aimed at assisting students destined for careers in a variety of vital professions.

Launched in early-summer, the foundation’s Steps to Success Campaign has a fundraising target of $150,000 to establish a new suite of financial assistance awards for students in the Rural Pre-Medicine (RPM) Program.

The campaign was spurred by a generous individual gift of $50,000 that requires matching funds from the general community.

An innovative pathway that accepted its first cohort of students in 2014, the three-year RPM Program has proven to be an ideal first-step for learners who want to become doctors, pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, physical therapists, midwives, veterinarians and public health professionals.

“The college has worked diligently to establish a program that is making tangible strides towards addressing the historical shortfall in health care professionals in rural communities,” says Jonathan Vanderhoek, RPM Program Coordinator and college instructor.

“We offer students a tremendous foundation in this program and attending Selkirk College is an affordable option for those beginning their education. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it requires many years after starting at Selkirk College to pursue an education in these health care careers and these costs adds up quickly. To help ensure learners succeed, financial assistance is essential.”

It is estimated that more than a million British Columbians are without a family doctor and face significant challenges accessing primary health care. Education plays a key role finding solutions for the acute shortfall and the RPM Program is one of the ways regional post-secondary is playing a part.

The Steps to Success Campaign is looking to the community for donors and planning events to meet its fundraising target. With matching funds available, the time is now to make a real impact on the lives of those who will fill frontline health care roles into the future.

An Innovative Idea Produces Results

Funded by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, the RPM Program was created through collaboration and consultation with health organizations, medical professionals and Selkirk College faculty. The program aims to increase the number of rural and Indigenous students pursuing careers in health care.

Students have learning opportunities that are not available in other undergraduate programs and effective supports that build successful outcomes.

Ben Koenig came to Selkirk College straight out of high school from his hometown of Oliver. Though he had several options for post-secondary directions, he chose a program that appealed to his learning style and his love for a mountain community. Just prior to graduating with his advanced diploma from Selkirk College in May, the 21-year-old received an acceptance letter to the University of British Columbia’s Southern Medical Program based out of Kelowna.

“What we learn in the program is far beyond what you will get from another undergraduate pathway to medical school,” says Koenig, who will spend four years in medical school starting in September.

“It gives so much unique extra knowledge, support, research projects and opportunities that were central to my admission into medical school. It really kept me on track and I don’t think it would have been possible without the program.”

A main premise of the RPM Program is to focus on health care outside large urban centres and have graduates return to smaller communities upon graduation. Delivering high level academic programing in a supportive rural environment provides a strong foundation for students going on to complete their education at receiving institutions in British Columbia and across the country. Graduates of the RPM Program with an affinity for rural life are now spread across many different post-secondary disciplines, including 20 who have been accepted into or have completed medical school programs.

Grace Cline grew up in tiny Pass Creek and attended high school at Castlegar’s Stanley Humphries Secondary where she decided in Grade 11 that she wanted to become a physician. Now heading into her second year of the program, Cline is confident that she made the right choice.

“I immediately knew that my path wasn’t to start at a big school and to stay home, medical school is expensive and I knew that I would have to save money to get through it,” says the 19-year-old.

“Selkirk College was the smoothest transition from high school to college that you can get. It’s one thing to want to get out of your hometown and I get that, but starting here has shifted my view of where I grew up. I really do want to come back and practice in Castlegar because being at Selkirk College has given me a different view of the world and made me feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful place.”

Costs Add Up Quickly

The financial burden to become a doctor or complete education in other health care disciplines is daunting. For those who enter medical school in a location such as UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, the costs over four years for tuition, books, supplies and living expenses is estimated at $284,000.

The Steps to Success Campaign is intent on helping provide both financial assistance and community support for those taking early steps at Selkirk College who are building the skills they will need to be successful rural health care providers in the future. Those interested in supporting learners have several options to give, including one-time gifts or monthly donations.

“The more financial support a person can get, the more they can learn and the better their education will be,” says Cline.

“If you are not worried about the financial burden, then you have more time to study because you are not constantly needing to work to afford it. When that happens, you will get into that final exam without thinking about all those voices that tell you that you need to quit because you can’t afford it. That is what’s holding people back, there are a lot of people who are driven to be doctors and they just can’t afford it.”

Learn more about the campaign and how to be part of building a stronger rural health care system at: https://selkirk.ca/about-selkirk/selkirk-college-foundation

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