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Friday, 07 April 2017 08:00

RPAP receives expanded mandate, now to work with all allied health professionals

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With a continued commitment of funding from the Alberta government in the 2017-18 budget which was released in March, officials with the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan (RPAP) are also focusing on an expanded mandate.

While RPAP has worked since its formation in 1992 on supporting medical students, resident physicians and practising physicians with attraction, retention and training initiatives, officials will now expand their approach to include all allied health professionals including Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, occupational therapists and physical therapists to name a few.
“It couldn’t be a more perfect fit,” points out Bernard Anderson, executive director of RPAP.
For more than 20 years, RPAP officials have worked to expand the attraction, retention and support programs they offer rural physicians.
“We’ve been asked to do the same thing for allied health practitioners. We’re building a strategic plan to try to address that, within our existing resources,” explains Anderson.
There will be some changes at the organization with the expanded mandate. For about 15 years, RPAP ran resident physician support programs. The Alberta Rural Family Medicine Network was a unique partnership involving the universities of Alberta and Calgary departments of family medicine.
Those programs — one in the south and one in the north — along with their funding and staffing positions, have been moved to those universities.
RPAP will continue to support practising physicians with numerous programs such as physician skills enrichment where rural physicians can upgrade skills without worrying about the loss of income as well as having access to enhanced emergency skills training and other continuing medical education opportunities; the physician locum program which helps practising physicians get much-needed time off, but still have their patients receive services; and the preceptors funding for rural clinical placements for medical students and resident physicians.
As RPAP officials expand their mandate to encompass more health-care practitioners, they also have been seeking feedback from communities about their service.
In January, a survey was done with key stakeholders — about 100 of the rural communities RPAP works with on a regular basis. That survey showed community officials wanted to see RPAP work with other occupations, especially allied health professionals. Anderson points out it is good timing considering the new mandate.
The survey also showed community representatives want RPAP to share their message to higher levels of government and Alberta Health Services.
“Rural communities want to be heard more,” adds Anderson. “They feel on the health side, their message is not making it to the top. We’re trying to think of ways we can help take that message to the top. We will work with Alberta Health and strategies with groups about how we can make their voices better heard.”
Work on all of these initiatives will get underway this month, along with the release of the summary results of the survey. Expansion will take place with the hiring of rural community health professionals development consultants. Anderson says as a non-profit, retention is always a challenge for the organization, but he looks forward to bringing in new people who will see the organization and its work through a bit of a different lens.
He points out RPAP used to do more recruitment of rural physicians, but in the past few years has turned its focus more to the areas of retention and development.
Work will also be done in the coming months with a significant investment in social media and enhancing how RPAP shares its message in the rural areas, but also so officials can better hear what’s coming from those communities.
Anderson is pleased with the support received from the provincial government who has committed to funding RPAP every year since inception.
While funding approved on a year-to-year basis has its challenges, he knows how much government officials value the work being done.
He welcomes feedback and ideas that can benefit the organization.
More information about RPAP is available online at:

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor