Tumbler Ridge is home to a new doctor, thanks to the Practice Ready Assessment program (PRA) from the province.
Doctor Shola Solomon is a family doctor from Nigeria who moved to Toronto six years ago with his family.
After trying unsuccessfully to get a license to practice medicine in Ontario, Doctor Solomon began casting his net wider. In 2014, he was accepted into the Practice Ready Assessment program in BC.
The PRA program is a collaborative effort between the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues comprised of representatives from the Government of British Columbia and the Doctors of BC, and the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine’s Division of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in partnership with British Columbia’s health authorities and Health Match BC.
According to their website, the province’s first PRA program for family physicians launched as a pilot in April 2015. The program curriculum includes an initial two-and-a-half day orientation focused on acculturation to Canada and examination preparation, followed by three days of examinations.
Successful candidates then attend a two-day integration program followed by a further nine-and-one-half days of more focused orientation to prepare them for a comprehensive 12-week clinical field assessment in a designated BC community.
Doctor Solomon is part of the third group of physicians who have committed to working in the North as part of the program.
“When the college originally said I was eligible to apply, they sent my information to all the Health Care regions, and they allowed us to pick five communities. 75 percent of my practice in Nigeria was in rural areas. I don’t like noise. I like everything fresh. I wanted to go someplace where it was peaceful and where I could raise my kids. I wanted a place where they could have a good home, where they’d be safe, so I picked Kitimat, Hazelton, Tumbler Ridge, Quesnel, Enderby and Nakusp. I got interviews in Hazelton, Enderby and Tumbler Ridge. I had to go and Google these places. I chose Tumbler Ridge number one, then Hazelton, then Kitimat. They did an interview with me, asked me what I was interested. They said, we want to take you on in Tumbler Ridge, do you want to go? I said give me a couple days. So I said yes. A week after, I got a call from Northern Health saying ‘we’ll give you a job in Tumbler Ridge, but it’s not automatic. You have to pass your exams. Good Luck.’ I didn’t talk to them again until after I passed the exams.”
He finished his assessment in Chetwynd last month, and, while he wasn’t expected to start working until September, is already getting his feet wet at the clinic. He has found a place to stay, and his family doesn’t arrive for another two weeks, he says. “There was nothing for me to do, so I spoke to Doctor Temple, Northern Health’s Northeast Medical Director and asked her if I could start,” says Solomon. “As soon as I got all my documents, I started.”
Solomon will be joined by his wife and two boys on August 29. “They’re looking forward to settling in this place,” he says. “My son, because of curiosity, looked up Tumbler Ridge on the Internet and found out so much information about this area that I didn’t know. One of the reasons why I chose here was because my nine year old boy is in love with dinosaurs. One of the principle reasons for choosing Tumbler Ridge was because he wants to be a paleontologist. I’m so sure my son will find this a fantastic place.”
As part of the program, Solomon had to commit to spending two years in Tumbler Ridge, but he expects he will be here longer. “I am here permanently. Glad to be here. So far, people have been very welcoming and supportive. It’s a good sign that I’m welcome in this place.”
He says getting his license to practice medicine in BC wasn’t easy. “It took a lot of effort, a lot of paperwork, a lot of correspondence from home. I had to write a lot of exams. It was a high-level of scrutiny, but with good luck on my side I was able to skate through.”
Solomon comes to Tumbler Ridge with 17 years of family practice in Nigeria. “Coming here and taking the tests was not coming to learn, it was to show them how much skill and experience I have. That took three months. I started in May and finished in July, practicing under the supervision of an older physician in Chetwynd. They observed how I worked, how I talked to patients, how I listed to patients and the way I treated them. They assessed if I knew the Canadian system. It’s not just medicine; you have to understand the emotional part of it.”
He says he’s learned a lot from the Canadian system. Over the last couple years, he has been returning to Africa to practice medicine. “When I go back to Africa I try and take some of these systems back, and I get such a phenomenal response.”
Medicine here is quite different than back home in Africa, says Solomon. “The methodology is different; I can’t do it the same way I did it in Africa. I had to go for a number of courses in Toronto to learn the Canadian way. In April I flew to Vancouver to take the tests. After I passed, they asked me to go for an assessment to see how good I was as a physician.”
Solomon says back home, there’s a lot more trauma to deal with. “From assaults, from fighting, stabbing wounds, gunshots, motor vehicle accidents. It gave me a lot of exposure and skill in managing those things. In Nigeria there is public and private health care, but if you want to get quick results, you go to the private clinic. It’s highly competitive, while in the government system, the government tells you what you can do, so you don’t want to go the extra mile.
“The Nigerian Health Care System is not as advanced as Canada’s, but you do more with your clinical acumen. I can typically hazard a guess as to what’s wrong with a patient, instead of relying on machine. We do a lot more mental work there.”
And what’s the same? “What’s similar between Canada and Nigeria is that we’re all human, and you have to treat people as such. What’s similar is I was reading the same books, learning the same things.”
He says drawing both medical systems has already helped him. “You get more tropical diseases there, but with so many immigrants coming to Canada you’re starting to see that here, too. In 2014, I was there during the Ebola outbreak. Most physicians here haven’t seen it, but I have. It’s terrible. Somebody who is normal has changed in a few hours. It’s worse than HIV. This one, within hours. You can’t get close to the person, so you have to wear protective gear. Coming here with that kind of experience we are able to deal with all manner of conditions, and we can tackle them as a team. When I was in Chetwynd, a women came in with a disease that the doctor had never seen before. Back home, I saw it every day. It’s a good thing that you have physicians coming from all over the world to Canada. With all these different backgrounds, it will strengthen the health care distribution in BC and in other provinces that allow doctors from other countries.”
Solomon is one of six new family physicians in the North. Three are in Quesnel, one in Chetwynd, one in Dawson and one here in Tumbler Ridge.