Doctor enjoys building relationship with rural patients

Farmer patients often told to get regular checkups 
so they can ‘work longer and be happier’

LEADER, Sask. — Dr. Paul Dhillon has learned a thing or two about farmers.

“You can tell a farmer by his hands,” he said.

“There is not a farmer in the world that would be a hand model.”

Dhillon is one of about 20 doctors with the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s Rural Relief Program. He travels to communities substituting for physicians on leave and recently spent a week at the medical clinic and hospital in Leader.

In a profession where the rural doctor is often “on call,” he said the Rural Relief Program allows physicians working in small towns the chance to attend a conference or take a holiday or time off for family reasons.

Dhillon’s job has taken him throughout the province and can range from three days to two weeks. An experienced world traveller, Dhillon knows how to pack light. A hospital bag, a running and soccer bag, a “daily life” bag and a cooler fridge are packed into his Land Rover and he’s ready to go.

Practising rural medicine affords the 33-year-old a wide ranging practice and the ability to build relationships with his patients.

“The office work I enjoy, and I like the continuity of care here. I get to see patients. I get to see if the intervention I did works later on, which is difficult to do as a locum,” he said.

“It’s a bit more relaxed. You get to know your patients and build a relationship with them.”

A typical workday starts with making hospital rounds at 8 a.m. The rest of the morning is spent with clinic duties and meeting the steady flow of scheduled patients. A brief lunch is followed by an afternoon filled with more patients. Writing and filing electronic medical records are a necessary constant.

An emergency can halt the day’s rhythm at any time. Doctors are on call during their entire time, and Dhillon estimates he was on call 196 hours this particular week.

“You’re needed. You’re really ap-preciated. I think that comes through. There’s a lot of physicians who really love doing the rural work, but then it’s always been an under-served area,” he said.

“I like the ability to do everything with rural medicine. The way I like to describe it is like I have a very large but shallow pool of knowledge about medicine. So I know if I’m getting a bit too deep, then I have the specialists I can go to.”

Dhillon’s medical experiences seem to drift toward front line work, and he thrives under emergency situations.

This past winter, he volunteered six weeks of his time at the Save the Children U.K.-run Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone. It was a unique, fulfilling opportunity, but he witnessed immeasurable human suffering and tragedy.

The fact that he could have been a statistic to the deadly rampaging virus has only sharpened his desire to put service above himself.

He recently joined 16 Field Ambulance in Regina with the Royal Canadian Medical Services as a general duty medical officer and eventually will do clinic work at the air base in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Dhillon’s passion for life and people are also attracting the attention of others. He was recently named one of CBC Saskatchewan’s Future 40, which recognizes the province’s brightest young leaders younger than 40.

Dhillon said he continues learning about farmers from the occupational health issues he sees.

“They carry themselves differently. You can tell a farmer when they walk in the door,” he said.

“They’re honest and they want the facts and they can generally take the facts. They’re much more aware of the natural life cycle.”

He offers them some friendly doctor’s advice.

“Listen to your wives. If they say to come and see the doctor, then come in. If you know something is wrong, than come and see your doctor. Make the time to do it. It might just be a couple of hours in the morning, but it could potentially allow you to work longer and be happier.”

He said farmers are experts in their fields, but “we the physicians and medical staff are the experts for the field that is your body, or the harvest that is your body. I would never go to a farmer and say, ‘you can wait until next week to seed.’ They know when something is important, it needs to get done. I have never written a sick note for a farmer. That says it all.”


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