Community Support Vital to Selkirk College’s Effort to Spur Careers in Rural Health

Launched as a way to improve access to health care careers for students living outside urban areas, Selkirk College’s Rural Pre-Medicine (RPM) Program is providing a successful post-secondary start for future healthcare professionals.

The RPM Program welcomed its first cohort in 2014 with a bold goal of increasing the number of students from rural communities who enter professional health programs. With 11 former RPM students currently in medical school and dozens more pursuing careers in other areas including pharmacy, optometry, naturopathic medicine, biomedical research and public health, the program is delivering on its mandate.

At this stage in its development, the program is inviting members of the public to participate as part of a community-initiative to develop a RPM Scholarship Endowment. The endowment will support students by lessening the financial stress they experience at the beginning of an academic pathway that can take as many as ten years to complete.

“The road to becoming a health professional involves many years of expensive education and this creates challenges for our students,” says RPM Program Coordinator Jonathan Vanderhoek. “Students in the health sciences from communities like ours often come from lower socio-economic backgrounds than their urban counterparts; they also have access to fewer scholarships and employment opportunities when studying in rural locations. An RPM Scholarship Endowment Fund enables the program to award scholarships that empower students to continue on a path towards careers in rural health.”

Seed Funding Sets Course for Future

Two private donors have provided an initial $10,000 for the endowment and the goal is to build the principal balance over the years to come. As the endowment grows, investment income will be used to award scholarships to students who are academically strong, engaged in the community and who show promise to become rural health professionals.

Susan and Rick Schroeder provided a gift of $5,000 in memory of father John Schroeder who was active in community healthcare through involvement on hospital and long term care boards. Selkirk College chemistry instructor Allyson Perrott also provided a $5,000 gift, displaying the internal support the RPM Program receives at the institutional level.

“I am privileged to teach in the RPM Program,” says the veteran faculty member who has taught at Selkirk College since 2001 and received her PhD from Dalhousie University. “When the program was first proposed, I saw it as a real win-win opportunity for the community and for individual students. In addition to addressing the need for rural health practitioners, it was designed to provide a solid, well-rounded education. I have had the pleasure of teaching the energetic and motivated RPM students from the very beginning of the program and I am thrilled with their successes after they leave us. It is my pleasure to contribute to make their journeys just a little easier.”

Making A Difference for Rural Students

Growing up at the end of a dirt road along the shores of Duncan Lake in Howser, Jace Lamoureux’s ambition to become a medical doctor started in September in a place that feels custom-designed for his needs. A member of the first-year RPM cohort and graduate of Kaslo’s JV Humphries Elementary & Secondary School, Lamoureux did not need to look far to find the right fit.

“This school is an incredible transition for rural students,” says Lamoureux. “To go from a school with less than 300 students from K to 12 to a university in a big city would be very difficult. The RPM Program is a lot of hard work, but the education is personalized and it is very helpful to have that strong connection with your instructors.”

A stellar academic student and valedictorian for his 23 classmates that graduated from his high school in 2020, Lamoureux had no shortage of post-secondary options. A leader in both the classroom and the community, the 18-year-old has already discovered the benefits of a close-to-home start to his education.

“The positive skills and habits that one is encouraged to build through the program helps me develop what is needed to succeed not only academically, but in anything I do in life,” he says. “Through diverse and comprehensive courses, along with the additional coaching and preparation, I am acquiring the essentials needed to prepare me for what I will be facing down the road in my pathway to medical school.”

Helping Learners Transition to Careers as Health Professionals

The RPM Program was created in consultation with stakeholders from medicine and medical education. As the program continues towards its next stage of development, one of its foundational funding partners has provided a boost for the future. A partnership between the Doctors of B.C. and the Ministry of Health, the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues (JSC) has renewed its commitment to the Selkirk College program with a further $1.074 million in funding for 2022-2024.

This support reflects the continuing success of the program and provides it with the means to amplify its impact at improving access to professional health for rural students. In addition to the JSC, the program also receives financial support from regional hospital auxiliaries and the Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice, contributing more than over $6,000 annually towards scholarships for graduates of local high schools. The new endowment will bolster this assistance for students, better equipping them to pursue lengthy post-secondary journeys.

“Student debt and financial pressure create real obstacles,” says Vanderhoek. “Many of our students are required to work significantly more than their urban counterparts and this can create a competitive disadvantage when they apply to professional health programs. The more time our students spend working, the less time they have available to focus on their academic studies or contribute to community service that helps them to build relevant skills and knowledge. Scholarships through this endowment will go a long way towards helping these students succeed beyond Selkirk College.”

Original article from Selkirk College