National recognition for Lee

Swift Current physician Dr. Tara Lee has received national recognition for her leadership role in medical education in Saskatchewan.

She is a recipient of the Canadian Association for Medical Education (CAME) Certificate of Merit Award for 2021.

This CAME award has been presented annually since 2002 to faculty members for their commitment to medical education in Canadian medical schools.

Dr. Lee is the only 2021 recipient of the CAME Certificate of Merit Award affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.

Her nomination for this award was submitted by the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine, which made the recognition even more special to her.

“I was really honoured to receive this award,” she said. “It's a recognition from my colleagues at the College of Medicine and it was a sign that rural family physicians are appreciated and our contributions to academic medicine are being recognized. So I really appreciated that.”

Dr. Lee is the site director of the Swift Current Family Medicine Program, which she established in 2009. It is one of several training sites of the Department of Academic Family Medicine, which is a clinical department within the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.

The CAME award also recognizes Dr. Lee’s contribution to distributed medical education in the province through her position as director of the Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (SLIC), which was launched at the College of Medicine in 2018.

She received her medical degree through the University of Saskatchewan and completed her family residency training in 2009 in Saskatoon. At the time there was only one rural family residency site in Prince Albert, and she was asked by her supervisor and mentor Dr. Keith Ogle to establish a site in Swift Current. The request came as a surprise, but she never hesitated to accept the challenge.

“I basically looked at him and I just said sure,” she recalled. “At no time did I think it was a bad idea. I knew it was the right thing to do and therefore I just put my nose to the ground and I just did it.”

The Swift Current Family Medicine Program is based out of the Associate Family Physicians Clinic, where Dr. Lee started her own medical practice in 2009. She now realizes it was quite a feat to establish the program while she was working in her own busy practice.

“And looking back, I had this idea that it was very important for my community,” she said. “I understood at the time that in order for a rural community to thrive, for their healthcare community to thrive, we needed to teach doctors there. I knew the sacrifice that it was going to require was worth it, and so I really was very determined, even though I knew it was daunting and it was very challenging.”

The University of Saskatchewan’s family medicine residency training program expanded to three other rural sites since 2009, which are located in North Battleford, La Ronge and Moose Jaw.

Dr. Lee believes the program’s presence in Swift Current and elsewhere is very important to retain physicians who have the experience of training in a rural environment.

“It's much different than training in an urban centre,” she said. “I know that, because I was trained in an urban centre and I came back to a rural practice. I do see the benefit of being trained in the environment that you're going to practice in.”

There are also wider benefits for the medical profession to have an academic program in a community.

“Bringing an academic program to a site really changes that environment in a lot of ways,” she said. “You have students there with you. Therefore, you have to keep your skills up to date, you have to keep your knowledge up to date. There's an expectation of professionalism and creating that environment that is appropriate to have students there. So a lot of things change in the community when you have your own academic program. It creates standard approaches to different clinical scenarios, you start having academic teaching.”

The Swift Current family medicine program has provided training to 41 residents since 2009, and approximately 80 per cent of them have remained in rural practice. The program has evolved over time in response to resident's feedback and medical education has also changed significantly.

“Competency based medicine, which is a different type of pedagogy for medical education, has come into play since I've started the program,” she said. “The way we teach residents and medical school in general is changing so significantly that the program has to change over time.”

The location of the program in a smaller community requires more flexibility and an ability to think outside the box to provide learners with the same opportunities that are available in larger urban centres such as Regina and Saskatoon, where there are more capacity and learning environments.

“We have been able to do that,” she said. “It sounds challenging, but at the same time in rural environments I find actually we have a lot of clinical experiences for the residents. They can have a lot of individual teaching and all sorts of benefits that a rural environment can provide.”

The start of the program in Swift Current marked the beginning of Dr. Lee’s own journey in academic medicine.

“For me the challenge is always to balance my clinical practice and my academic responsibilities,” she said. “I think it's very important when you're the leader of an academic program to make sure that you maintain your clinical skills in the environment with the residents so that they see you working and you're there with them. … “You're always thinking and talking about what you're doing, and so double checking your work and making sure you're doing the right thing. So that's very beneficial.”

She feels one of the biggest benefits of her role has been the opportunity to provide a rural perspective during discussions about College of Medicine programming.

Dr. Lee is also continuing her academic contribution through her position as SLIC director. This undergraduate medical education program provides a new learning path for medical students, who can spend all 48 weeks of their third-year program in a single location as an alternative to doing a number of six-week specialty-based rotations in different locations. The SLIC program sites are located in Estevan, Meadow Lake and Melfort, and the newest site will be in La Ronge.

“What this type of program does is it puts you in a generalist environment in a rural community and you are exposed to all those disciplines at one time and in one place,” she explained. “So you are provided a bit more independence and more responsibility.”

Dr. Lee feels confident about the future of the family medicine residency training program in Swift Current and its contribution towards rural physician recruitment.

“We've been very successful with our program,” she said. “It's been a shining light in our medical community and we've been able to retain a lot of really great physicians that have gone above and beyond in different parts of our community, as well as throughout our province, and so I think it's a very successful model of rural training. I see it continuing for years and years. I can't see that there would ever not be a need to provide rural education.”

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