New book celebrates northern medical community

  • Apr. 11, 2011 5:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay–A doctor who kayaks to work, a nurse who’s worked thousands and thousands of hours on the islands, a hospital administrator drawn to the islands before ever coming and a Haida elder who was instrumental in helping bridge a medical/cultural gap. These are the islanders celebrated in a new book about northern health care providers. Front Lines, a stunning book of stories and photographs about healthcare workers in the north, by Sarah de Leeuw of the Northern Medical Program at the University of Northern BC, is hot off the presses. Among the 35 caregivers featured from across the north, four are from Haida Gwaii: Dr. Tracy Morton, Buffy Watson, Kerry Laidlaw and Diane Brown. Ms de Leeuw said these, and the many others featured, are shining examples of the larger community of health care providers in the area. Two things struck her when writing the book: one was the incredible display of humilty each showed when discussing their work (think of Ms Watson who in her 40 years as a nurse on the islands has seen so much and met so many people or Peter Newbery in Hazelton who received the Order of Canada, and flys his own planes) and the other was how the landscape and place affected these people’s practices. “I suspect that not many health care providers equate location with a way to practice,” says Ms de Leeuw.Ms de Leeuw, whose background is in creative writing and geography, grew up on Haida Gwaii and in Terrace. She now works as an assistant professor at the University of Northern BC’s medical program and teaches Doctor Patient Society courses, which include the ethics, historic/cultural and psychosocial aspects of healthcare. One of the main purposes for the book, she said, is to demonstrate that northern BC is not a “bereft landscape.” “Rural and northern areas are often written off as places where nothing is happening,” she said. “But anyone who has lived in these communities knows a different story.” Part of the Northern Medical Program’s raison d’etre is to address the shortage of medical workers in the north, she said. “There is good evidence that says if students are trained and do residencies and undergrad outside of large urban centres they gravitate towards staying in rural areas,” she said. “I hope this book will reinforce to whoever happens to be listening that the north is a very vibrant and phenomenal place,” she said. The book is beautiful too, she says, thanks to the work of photographer Tim Swanky and publisher Creekstone Press of Smithers.

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