Chetwynd two, Tumbler Ridge, zero

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo


CHETWYND – After years of month-long waits for appointments that led to frustrated residents, burnt out physicians and staff doing whatever they could to try and recruit doctors to Chetwynd, the cavalry has finally arrived.

Two new doctors, Dr. Schreve Jr. and Dr. Van Der Heide, have made an immediate impact on the community in their first few months of practice, relieving the clogged arteries of the Chetwynd Centre Medical Clinic, allowing for shorter wait times and greater quality of service by making the work load a bit more manageable at the towns only family practice.

Meanwhile, in Tumbler Ridge, we have no new doctors. However, Doctor Charles Helm says this is the least of our concerns. “Physician recruitment is dwarfed as an issue by the nursing and ambulance problems,” he says.

Helm says he has little doubt that Tumbler Ridge will find a third physician. “In the meantime we are coping fine as we have stitched together a good stream of locums, have one who is coming for five months next year, already have interest in next summer, etc.”

As part of physician recruitment strategy, a video team was up here earlier this month filming a promotional video to show the benefits of working in a smaller community to physicians.

Helm says the real issue is nursing. “If nursing folds, there will be a domino effect. There will be no ER services available.”

Which means that in the case of an emergency, people will have to be trucked off to Dawson or Chetwynd.

The Chetwynd Centre Medical Clinic has a service area of about 7,000 residents from the town and surrounding areas.

The additional medical support is thanks in part to a $100,000 incentive to recruit doctors to rural communities by the BC Medical Association and the government of British Columbia. But the tireless recruitment efforts made by the District of Chetwynd should not be overlooked.

Dr. Van der Heide was the lucky recipient of the $100,000 signing bonus. He described his decision to come to Chetwynd as “multifactorial”. Dr. Van der Heide is originally from Chilliwack, and did his residency in Prince George.

“Being familiar with Northern Health systems makes the transition a lot easier in terms of their electronic systems at the hospital,” he said, also citing student loan forgiveness as part and parcel of his decision to come to town.

Canada student loans will forgive $8,000 a year for each year that a doctor practices in a small town with a population under 50,000, and his British Columbia student loans will be forgiven at a rate of 33 per cent per year.

“Rural practice is a lot different from urban practice. I am doing all sorts of things here that I would never do in a bigger place,” Dr. Van der Heide noted. “I was talking to a friend of mine that works in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, and he was telling me if somebody comes in with a massive heart attack we just call the cardiologist on call. Here, I am the cardiologist on call.”

But the lack of specialists available at his disposal has not hindered the service he can deliver. And if cases are too severe, the transfer options are useful, he says.

“We transfer people out if they need care that we can’t provide. I’ve used STARS once since I’ve got here and fixed-wing [BC Ambulance services]. For severe cases, motor vehicle accidents mostly.”

Dr. Van der Heide has noticed some differences between rural and urban practice upon his arrival in Chetwynd.

“The practice is different because there is only one practice in town. In Prince George you’d just see people from all walks. But here, you know who people are. It makes it easier in a way but there is challenges with that.”

Dr. Van der Heide says he enjoys Chetwynd and looks forward to building relationships with new patients.

“Most people are pretty welcoming, they welcome me when they come see me so that’s nice. I am getting to know a lot of people all at once.”

For his colleague, Dr. Schreve Jr., the move to Chetwynd was mostly inspired by the chance to work with his father, long-serving Chetwynd physician Dr. Siegfried


“I came here to work with my Dad number one, to learn from him and to better myself,” he said. “I have always wanted to work with him. It’s always a sons dream to work with his Dad. I feel like he can teach me a lot.”

The more experienced of the two new doctors in town, Dr. Schreve Jr. carries with him the knowledge he has gained from working in trauma hospitals, and at community and family medicine practices during his two-year internship in Cape Town, South Africa.

He has also spent a year doing community service in and around the townships of Cape Town.

“My community service was spent in two hospitals, I did six months in a trauma unit [and] we saw a lot of gun shots and stab wounds, a lot of sick medical patients as well, HIV patients and stuff like that,” Dr. Schreve Jr. said.

“It is a good thing to go through because you get a lot of skills, you learn how to see the patient that needs acute medical care. The nice thing about Chetwynd is that if you pick things up early [in patients] you can manage them appropriately. I’m lucky to have spent most of my time working with specialists so, certain conditions, if you pick them up and you treat them early and appropriately, people have a good outcome. That’s what family medicine is about, keeping people healthy.”

His experience in Chetwynd has been a remarkable change of pace, one that he and his family have welcomed.

Both doctors mentioned they keep busy by running up Mount Baldy two to three times a week. Dr. Schreve Jr. has a young family also that is still finding their way in their new community.

“I came here to help people I am here to do a service and I am hoping that when I go away one day people will say that guy helped me. You shouldn’t wait a month to see a doctor, especially a family doctor.”

Speaking for himself and his colleague, Dr. Schreve said that the town would hopefully notice an improvement in the timeliness of care in the coming months and years.

“We’re trying to provide a good service for the town. Our goal would be to keep people as healthy as we can and to treat emergencies as good as we know how to but, in the end we are just human beings as well and we are here because we want to be here, not because we are forced to be here. It makes a little bit of a difference.”