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Dr. Sarah Surette on Training Doctors in Rural Nova Scotia

SarahSuretteDr. Sarah Surette is among a handful of new doctors participating in the Dalhousie Family Medicine Residency Program in the Annapolis Valley.

Dr. Surette grew up in Kentville, Nova Scotia but attended medical school at the University of Calgary. After completing her undergraduate degree and making the decision to start a family, she decided to return to her hometown to complete her training.

She began in the Family Medicine Residency Program in the Annapolis Valley when the program first launched in 2012. The program is one of the first in Canada to use the newly-approved Triple C curriculum which focuses on continuity of care, education, and evaluation.

The program is the second rural residency experience available to Nova Scotia physicians.

Dalhousie’s first family residency program launched in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1997, training residents in communities across the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. 

The rural residency program exposes new physicians to the benefits of rural life and the professional supports available in rural communities. The goal of the program is to encourage new physicians to choose rural Nova Scotia for their family practice.

Dr. Surette is one of five family medicine residents in the Annapolis Valley’s second year program. For her, the program was appealing because of the unique way it’s been developed.

Dr. Surette’s training is focused on full-scope family practice with more clinical days with the same preceptor in family medicine and only periodic stints in various speciality departments.
This type of learning and well-rounded experience is what attracted Dr. Surette to the program.

Residency programs are typically arranged in blocks of time, meaning residents spend months focusing on one area, such as surgery. This program is different.

“What I like about being a learner in the valley is that I’m back each week in a clinical setting, which has given me longitudinal care of patients. I’m able to treat and follow patients over the full period of my residency,” said Dr. Surette.

“This experience readies me for my own family medicine practice,” she added.

Dr. Surette lives in her hometown and her clinical days are based in Middleton with her preceptor, Dr. Jane Brooks. Her exposure to specialities takes place at the Valley Regional Hospital.

“It’s a great program for learners. The valley has wonderful teachers. They’ve given so generously of their time to ensure we all meet our goals,” she said.

Dr. Surette chose family medicine for the variety and the opportunity to have personal connections with patients.

“I wanted to do a little bit of everything and when I started family medicine I loved the clinic days, especially building relationships with my patients,” she said.

She cares for Dr. Brooks’ patients, some almost exclusively.

“Patients have been very receptive. They’re excited to have learners in the valley. Many ask me if I’m going to stay,” she said.

And she plans to. For Dr. Surette, life in the valley is good.

Achieving a work-life balance can be a challenge for medical professionals and particularly so during residency, but Dr. Surette said she feels there’s a good balance in her program and the community is kind and vibrant. Residents enjoy a number of evenings off as well as two weekends a month.

While the valley will always be home to Dr. Surette, she is confident that this program will successfully introduce the many joys of rural medicine to new physicians now out of medical school.

She believes it will compliment the province’s ongoing strategies to recruit new doctors to rural Nova Scotia.