NOSM graduates yearning to practice back home

By Merna Emara

When you are young, the thought of leaving our home town and moving somewhere new is exciting. Other times, it reminds us how strong our roots are. This is the case with Jeremy Strain and Jilayne Jolicoeur.

Jolicoeur and Strain are from Fort Frances, but left town to attend the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). Right now, Jolicoeur is completing her residency program for family medicine in Thunder Bay. Strain is studying dermatology in Calgary.

Prior to her enrolment at NOSM, Jolicoeur graduated from Lakehead University to become a registered nurse.

“I always wanted to know more,” Jolicoeur said. “I enjoyed working with people so that led me to apply to medical school. Growing up I also had good role models who also inspired me to pursue medicine. It’s a very meaningful profession. You get to be with people during difficult moments, but also the best moments in their lives and that’s an honour.”

On the other hand, Strain said he was trying a variety of fields after he completed his science bachelor’s degree.

“I was in education for a little over a year,” Strain said. “I was also in food services, working as a barista. I was finding my place in the world and what I found is that I have to learn more to know more about what I am doing.”

While these jobs were good, Strain said, he thought something more fulfilling was in store for him. It was not until he had a conversation with one of his managers about his future possibilities.

“Some of them included law, medicine and engineering,” Strain said. “Because I already had a science degree, I figured that medicine was the way to go. I feel like I’m pretty personable and have good rapport with my students and clients.”

Jolicoeur’s interest in family medicine stems from Fort Frances, being a town of family physicians.

“Going into med school and having the idea that I want to live in a rural community, family medicine came up on my radar,” Jolicoeur said. “Throughout medical school, I had a lot of great placements in family medicine that reaffirmed that that’s what I wanted to do. I also like the fact that it is so diverse. If you have a special interest, you can choose more patients, special skills or procedures in that area.”

Strain chose to specialize in dermatology because he said he is a mechanical person who likes to see problems resolved.

“That’s something different to respirology, where it is the function of the breathing where you can’t see or quantify it,” Strain said. “I did three weeks of dermatology in Sudbury. There’s also a surgical aspect to it, so I get the best of both worlds.”

Strain adds that growing up, he had really bad skin and his dermatologist would fly into Thunder Bay.

“I would meet with him every month to have a chat, he seemed like he really enjoyed his career. He never had any complaints. I saw how happy and fulfilled he was with his job.”

Jolicoeur and Strain said the most rewarding part of being a doctor is seeing patients succeed and knowing that they made a difference.

Strain said when he was doing a placement in Sudbury last year, a mother and son with severe psoriasis came in. Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes red, itchy and scaly patches.

“After they were put on certain medication, they said they can now go to the grocery store,” Strain said. “These types of interactions really make my day.”

While medicine is very rewarding, it does not come without its challenges. Strain said that medicine is a very busy profession, which forces him to only focus on a few hobbies in order to find time for everything.

Jolicoeur also added that with physician shortages in Canada and northern Ontario, doctors feel overworked.

“One of the struggles is feeling like you want to do more for people when you are doing your best, especially with family medicine, when you’re the point person for a lot of different aspects of a person’s care, when you are facilitating somebody’s care,” Jolicoeur said.

When it comes to future goals, Strain said coming back to Fort Frances is something he is seriously considering. The difficulty, he said, would be being a specialist and setting up practice in a small community.

“You don’t have the volume of patients to support yourself,” Strain said. “I’ve considered moving to Thunder Bay or Sudbury, even for a short period of time. Another option is to do locums. I do want to go back home and my parents still live there. I do want to get back to my community.”

Jolicoeur said she also wants to move back to Fort Frances at some point in the future.

“My goal is to be a rural family physician,” Jolicoeur said. “I would definitely be interested in coming back to the Rainy River District and practicing family medicine.”