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How Dr. Kenny Yee recruits doctors to Barrington Passage

Walking into Dr. Kenny Yee’s office in Barrington Passage, N.S., you know immediately that there’s something different about his practice.On the wall in the waiting room are 25 portraits of medical learners – a mix of residents, medical students and international medical graduates (IMGs). Dr. Yee has mentored them all, about one every year, since he started practising family medicine 26 years ago in the tiny community on the southwest tip of the province.

“It’s our hall of fame,” Dr. Yee says with a laugh. “It’s a good morale boost for our patients.”

Taking medical learners under his wing is second nature for Dr. Yee, and speaks to his own struggle to be welcomed into the medical community when he first arrived in Canada. Born and raised in Malaysia, he attended medical school in Australia, and worked for two years in New Zealand before moving to Canada.

“In 1993, there were no positions available for IMGs in Canada,” he recalls. “The only province that opened its doors to me back then was Nova Scotia. That’s part of why I’ve stayed.”

Dr. William Hunter Blair, a family physician in Clark’s Harbour, sponsored Dr. Yee when he arrived in the province. “I got lots of help from Dr. Blair,” Dr. Yee says. “Now, it’s nice to be able to provide that opportunity to other doctors.”

For him, mentoring medical learners is not only an opportunity to train the next generation of physicians, it’s also a chance to enrich his own practice of medicine.

Teaching them helps me stay young,” Dr. Yee says. “We learn so much as younger doctors but we tend to lose that as we get older. [As a teacher] I keep learning and that keeps me fresh in my practice.”

It also helps ensure that his community has physicians for the future. Many of the doctors he’s mentored over the years have stayed in the area. With five family physicians (which includes three IMGs) working in the community, Dr. Yee says Barrington Passage is in an enviable position. “But it only takes one generation of physicians to retire and then you are desperate for new physicians.”

“We need to stay ahead of the ball. Mentoring is one of the best ways to help with recruiting, since residents are more likely to return to where they’ve practised.”

With that in mind, Dr. Yee became a family medicine preceptor for the Dalhousie Family Medicine Southwest Nova residency training site when it opened in 2014. During the two-year program, residents work at the same family practice and also explore a range of specialities.

Dr. Maddy Arkle (left) is Dr. Kenny Yee’s third family medicine resident from Dalhousie Family Medicine’s Southwest Nova training site.

The hands-on, comprehensive nature of the program appealed to Dr. Madeline (Maddy) Arkle, now in her second year of residency in Dr. Yee’s practice.

“In one week, I’ll spend three days in the family clinic and the other days in the emergency department, obs/gyn clinic, in surgery, or on the in-patient wards at Yarmouth Regional Hospital,” says Dr. Arkle. “It’s a nice mix.”

Originally from Manitoba, Dr. Arkle studied medicine at Western University in London, Ont. “I lived in rural areas growing up, so I appreciate small-town culture,” she says. “I love having a strong relationship with my patients and seeing them in all stages of their lives.”

Working alongside Dr. Yee gives her an inside view on the best way to provide care for the people in her adopted community. “Dr. Yee is really in tune with what’s going on with his patients, so he can be more realistic when it comes to their treatment management,” she says.

“We don’t have the same services here as we [as we would in Halifax], so we’re creative in how we approach problems and we come up with solutions that will work for them.”

That’s why she finds rural medicine so exciting. “You’re thrown into it a bit more, so you learn to adapt quickly. You have to manage complicated situations a lot longer than you would in an urban setting.”

In Barrington Passage, residents are key players in the medical community from day one. “Our residents quickly become part of the team,” Dr. Yee says. “They aren’t here just to learn – they’re really helping us do the work.”

While she doesn’t know what the future holds once she finishes residency, Dr. Arkle plans on living in a rural area. “People have been reaching out with recreational and volunteering opportunities to make me and my husband feel that we’re part of the community. We really feel that we’re welcomed here and wanted.”

For his part, Dr. Yee says he’s just putting into practice what he knows to be true. “Everything I know and practice, I’ve learned from a teacher,” he says. “There’s so much to be learned from a good teacher. That motivates me to pass it on to the next generation of doctors.”

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