Healthy Living in the North

Northern Doctor’s Day brings together 150 doctors from across the North

NH staff standing at the registration table for Northern Doctor's Day.

Northern Health staff welcome physicians at the registration table on Northern Doctor’s Day. Left to right: Kelsey Guldbransen, Continuing Medical Education Program Assistant, Jayleen Emery, Physician Quality Improvement Coordinator, Heather Gummow, Continuing Medical Education Program Coordinator.

The 42nd Annual Northern Doctor’s Day was held on November 2 and 3 at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) and the Courtyard Marriott in Prince George. This year, 150 doctors attended from throughout Northern BC.

The event is an annual conference that offers learning opportunities for physicians. It’s a chance for physicians throughout the North to network and build relationships, as well as to attend educational seminars. The educational program hosted a variety of topics this year including: Trauma Informed Approach to Addressing Inequity in Indigenous Health, Pharmacologic Treatments for Child/Youth Depression & Anxiety Disorders in Primary Care, and A Morning of Orthopedics for the Primary Care Physician.

Annually, Northern Doctor’s Day also features recognition of retiring physicians from the Prince George community.

Janna Olynick, Research Associate, and Erika Belanger, Research Associate, from Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCBC) offering rural physicians resources and information on practice.

 Erika Belanger and Janna Olynick, Research Associates, from Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCBC), offering rural physicians resources and information on practice.

Candice Manahan, Executive Lead, Physician Quality Improvement offers information and resources to support doctors in their practice.

Candice Manahan, Executive Lead, Physician Quality Improvement offers information and resources to support doctors in their practice.

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.


Telehealth bridges the kilometers between patients and doctors: NH Board updated on 5-year plan

Healthcare professionals in a telehealth meeting.Imagine being able to see a specialist without having to travel away from your community. Picture your doctor being able to monitor your condition while you’re in the comfort of your own home. How would it feel to ask for a prescription refill without having to go to a clinic? Telehealth is making these possibilities a reality.

The Northern Health Board of Directors received an update on NH’s 2017-2021 telehealth plan for expanding the clinical use of telehealth to reach more people in more places. Telehealth uses different kinds of technology to provide healthcare right in people’s own communities, with no need for travel. Examples include talking to a specialist by videoconference, sharing tests electronically to another hospital, getting physiotherapy by digital monitoring, and sending data from a monitor (such as a heart monitor) directly to your doctor. Telehealth allows for prevention, screening, diagnosis, determining a course of treatment, and clinical advice – in a way that’s very similar to an in-person experience.

“Telehealth is a virtualization of new and existing services that allows for a more intimate experience than a simple phone call can provide,” said Frank Flood, regional manager of Northern Health’s telehealth department. “By using video and peripheral equipment to extend the reach of clinics and specialists, we reduce the physical and financial burden to our patients.”

A telehealth cart.Many different kinds of health care can be provided by telehealth, including:

  • Mental health and addictions
  • Chronic disease
  • Kidney health
  • Child and youth health
  • Pharmacy services
  • Emergency services
  • Specialist consultations

These services and more will be available to Northern Health patients, depending on where they live (note that not all kinds of telehealth will be available in all communities).

Telehealth will improve care in rural and remote communities, and Northern Health will be partnering with the First Nations Health Authority to use telehealth to benefit Indigenous communities. Telehealth will also strengthen healthcare for the elderly and for people who need services around pregnancy, birth, or childcare. Likewise, it can help people living with chronic disease, mental illness, or addiction.

For the first two years of the plan, financial support for expanding telehealth capacity, including continued investment in staffing, tools, and capital equipment (such as refreshing videoconference suites) will come from NH’s existing operational budget. Funding for increasing the capacity of telehealth will also be sought from outside sources, including the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues.

Overall, telehealth will reduce the impact of distance and time in bringing health services to people and their families – Northern Health is excited to provide this new level of health care support to Northerners!

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.


Northern Doctor’s Day: Honoured retirees

Retiring doctors posing at a recent baquet.The 42nd Annual Northern Doctor’s Day retirees’ banquet was held on November 2 to honour physicians retiring in Prince George. Congratulations to the retiring doctors, and thank you for your years of serving Northerners!

Back row (L -R): Dr. Donald MacRitchie, Dr. John Smith, Dr. Bill Simpson, Dr. John Ryan, Dr. Jan Burg (Retirees), and Dr. Amin Lakhani (President of the Prince George Medical Staff Association)

Front row (L – R): Dr. Tony Preston (Prince George Medical Director), Dr. Marie Hay (Retiree), Dr. Ian Schokking (UHNBC Department Head Family Practice, Continuing Medical Education Physician Lead), Dr. Laura Brough (UHNBC Chief of Staff)


Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.


Diagnosis: Retiring. Here’s what retirement looks and feels like to two long term Prince George doctors.

As my co-worker, Bailee, and I walked down the street to meet up with and interview Drs. Garry and Susan Knoll, we jokingly bantered back and forth what we would do if we were retiring. The Knolls have been family doctors in Prince George for over 25 years, and they’ve finally made the decision to retire. Susan officially left her practice at the end of September and Garry is hoping to be done at his practice by January 2019.

“I bet they’re popping a big ol’ bottle of champagne and sailing to Tahiti!” I exaggerated.

Bailee, a tad more realistic than myself, mentioned something about being leaders in the medical community… something something? My mind was on a sailboat in Tahiti.

But, moments into the interview, I soon discovered, and probably should have predicted, Bailee was right. Even though the Knolls are parting from their full-time practices, the two doctors still have their stethoscopes on the heartbeat of the medical community. Here’s what each of them had to say on the topic of “retiring.”

susan knoll sitting on a bench with a statue, eating ice cream.What will you miss about practicing full time?


I’ll miss my patients. I’ve been looking after them for 20+ years. We have a relationship with each other and we’ve been through a lot together.

I’ll also miss the camaraderie at the office. I have been sharing an office with Ed Turski for most of the years in Prince George and Lindsay Kwantes joined us about six years ago. Both were fantastic partners – we never even came close to an argument! And our MOA, Colleen Price looked after us and our patients very well. I think we all respected and liked each other. Lindsay moved to be near family this summer, so we recruited two new grads from our Residency Program, who I was privileged to oversee through their training. It made it somewhat easier to leave, knowing that our office remains in good hands. But it will still be hard, in some respects, to part ways with that “family”.


I’ll miss feeling that sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and all the fun I had in the office. I really enjoyed the intergenerational relationships we built, and working with everyone at the hospital. I just came from a meeting with my interprofessional team and it was really good – we’re really getting to know the team and what people bring to the table, which makes it tough to leave.

I’ll also miss being part of the forward progress our system is making. It’s nice to be a part of a plan from the beginning, and since switching to integrated primary and community care, it’s been like going to Mars! There’s no turning back. We’ve decided to commit to a plan that I’m confident it will be better for everyone in the long run. It feels like we’ve recently made such positive strides in the right direction.

What are you looking forward to most about being retired?


Well I can tell you what I won’t miss! I won’t miss getting up to an alarm and rushing through rounds, then rushing to the office, and that feeling of always being late!

Now that I have a bit (a lot) more time, I’ve joined the Cantata Singers, which is great. I’m also able to hang out with my grandkids more and attend to all the “pieces of my wellness pie”! I’m looking forward to doing more travelling also.


You know, as a doctor, you’re always in a rush and with a lot of time pressure. I won’t miss that. I also won’t miss all the documentation!

Are you planning to stay involved with the medical community in some way?


I’m still going to work some shifts at the Nechako walk-in clinic and cover for other doctors’ vacations at my clinic. And I’m still going to help with the Prince George Divisions of Family Practice for a bit. We have a lot of friends in the medical community still, which makes it easy to stay connected. In Prince George, doctors have really good foresight and can grasp the ‘big picture’ of medicine. It keeps us very interested in what’s happening locally.


I’ll still be doing a few shifts at the Nechako walk-in clinic as well. Prince George has a really unique medical community that makes us want to stay involved. About 40% of our Family Physicians were graduates of our Residency program here in Prince George – I don’t know anywhere else that’s like that.

garry knoll cycling on a road in the summer.When you’re both retired, will you be doing anything immediately to celebrate?


Truthfully, the last day of work at my clinic just slipped by. When you’re in charge of making sure everything will run smoothly when you’re gone, it sort of sneaks up on you. I didn’t even have time to tell my patients or the medical office assistant that it was my last day! The clinic had a lovely celebration later.


When I finish, we’re planning to go cross-country skiing for three weeks in the New Year! Honestly, when you’re in charge of a practice, you don’t really get a “clean cut.” In one way or another, you’re involved. I think the hardest thing will be when we both decide to hand in our licenses. That will be a tough day.

In your career, did you ever experience physician burnout or woes? Would you have any advice for medical students who might be experiencing something similar?


I experienced a bit of burnout about 10 years ago. Luckily, I was able to recognize it, so I decided to get a coach and I discussed my values and what I hoped to get out of life. It was then that I decided to scale back the number of patients I was seeing in clinic, and added the part-time position of site director for the Family Practice Residency Program, Prince George site.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex and just go, go, go. Some advice for new graduates and medical students: read my article on wellness. It’s important to keep a balance in life and not be afraid to make changes. Realize that good work is part of the balance, you’re contributing, and it makes you feel good.


I’ve never had the burnout experience, although lately I have been thinking a lot about retirement! There have been times when I’ve felt frustrated, but I think any job has those.

The last 12 years I’ve been really focusing on finding a way forward for my practice, and the patients in the practice. I want patients to have a doctor that’s going to be there for the long term. Now that the practice has that, it makes it a LOT easier to step back.

Longitudinal care is so much better for patients and doctors – to have that long term relationship with their doctor. My hat’s off to the patients that have been there to educate residents over the last long years!

My advice for burnout: Self-reflection is important to be committed to. It’s important to receive feedback, and you need that group of people willing to give it in your professional and social life. You have to ask yourself, “Am I doing the things in life that align with my values?”

What was the biggest challenge for each of you both being general practitioners (family doctors)?


I think the biggest challenge was getting time off together. It was always a big scheduling event. We cared for the same patients in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and so we always talked about them when we weren’t at work. When we moved to Prince George we didn’t have the same patients, so we didn’t have that connection. There are definitely upsides to always understanding each other’s work demands.


For me, balancing the call of work and family was challenging. It actually became easier to overwork when the kids grew up, because they weren’t at home demanding our time. Overworking is easy when you both have busy schedules!

So, as it turns out, “retiring” to this pair of doctors is more about slowing down than anything else. Although there are no immediate plans of sailing towards Tahiti, it was genuinely satisfying to hear the praise and confidence they have for the direction northern BC healthcare is headed, and the people who are involved in moving it forward.

Thank you Garry and Susan for your interview time, and for leaving a lasting positive impact on your community!


It’s Canadian Intensive Care Week!

Celebrate Canadian Intensive Care Week Oct 21 – 27. Each year, over 100,000 Canadians receive life-saving care in ICUs. Thank you to Northern Health’s critical care nurses, ICU physicians, and other ICU care providers for all the hard work you do every day!

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!


Workplace burnout: How to avoid that stressful, sinking feeling

Raina Fumerton and her son posing outside.Physician burnout is a relatively common experience in BC and elsewhere. Life at work, and outside of work can be busy, chaotic, and stressful. It can, at times, feel overwhelming. I won’t pretend that I’ve got everything “figured out” or that I don’t have episodes of regression/remission to unhealthy habits, but I can share some strategies that have helped me to move in a healthier direction. As a physician, these help me – but can be just as beneficial for anyone!

As much as possible, stay positive. I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. It’s also hard to do and takes active effort (for me anyway). There are times, usually when I’m tired, when I tend to move to a negative outlook instead of a positive one. However, in my experience, cynicism can be very destructive and can lead to even more feelings of disempowerment and frustration, and can also be quite contagious. It’s been helpful to me to be aware of this tendency towards negativity, actively acknowledge it without judgment, and then trying to take a more compassionate and positive approach. Trying to see things from a different point of view and finding new opportunities from what might initially have felt like a failure can also be helpful.

Make realistic goals every day. Accomplishing small but realistic goals each day gives me the energy and motivation to stick with some of the longer term goals and projects I have on the go.

Be kind to myself and to others. A safe and respectful workplace is a culture that allows me to thrive. No matter the setting, saying thank you and showing gratitude to others for the many things that they do is a great way to ensure that I contribute to a positive and healthy environment that enables myself (and others) to thrive, both in the workplace and beyond. As a public health physician, I work on issues that can be quite controversial and divisive. As such, not having an expectation of myself to make everybody happy is also helpful. I take positions and make decisions based on public health ethics and on evidence; I have learned to accept that while people may disagree with me, I hope that they can respect and appreciate my process.

Posture. Sit up straight or stand up! I spend a lot of time at a desk and in front of a computer and am fortunate to have a sit-stand desk, which allows me some diversity/flexibility. I find when I pay attention to my posture, it has positive effects on me, both physically and mentally.

Exercise. I am not a morning person, and quite frankly I am not easily pulled away from the comfort of my home in the evenings either! However, I am lucky to have a workplace that is within walking distance from my home and a fabulous local fitness studio that hosts lunchtime exercise classes. I find incorporating exercise into my daily commute (e.g. walking to work) and/or daily lunchtime regime is far more effective than trying to find time in the early mornings or evenings, particularly now that I have children. The lunchtime classes really energize me at a critical juncture in the day which enables me to be more productive in the afternoon.

Spend time with my son (and soon to arrive baby daughter). Admittedly this can go both ways (there are definitely times where one’s children can affect one’s life balance in a negative way as well!). However, in general and overall, I experience a lot of joy in allowing myself to engage in his playful and curious ways and exploring the world through his eyes. He has the absolute best and most infectious (and therapeutic) laugh I’ve ever heard.

Spend time in nature. Living in beautiful northwestern BC, there is no shortage of highly accessible, stunning outdoor adventures and escapes to be enjoyed. I am fortunate to have a wide range of options at my fingertips for all four seasons. I try to make a purposeful effort to get outdoors every day, even if it’s just for a short walk, on my own, or with friends or family.

Raina Fumerton

About Raina Fumerton

Dr. Raina Fumerton is a public health physician and a Medical Health Officer in the northwest.


“3D”: Drugs, Dinos, and Dinner – Another unique conference in Tumbler Ridge

By Dr. Charles Helm & Heather Gummow

The second “3D conference” – Drugs, Dinos and Dinner – was held in Tumbler Ridge from May 25–27. Nearly 70 physicians, pharmacists, paramedics and nurses registered, a number that swelled to 120 at the Saturday evening banquet with the inclusion of spouses and families. This was probably the largest ever medical gathering in northeast BC.

Physicians are learning tendon repair using pigs' legs.

Dr. Stuart Johnston teaching tendon repair and skin flaps (using pigs’ legs) to Dr. Kalun Boudreau, Fort St. John and James Wilkie, Resident physician, Fort St. John. Dr. Charles Helm, Chief of Staff Tumbler Ridge, observing.

Conference participants were treated to ten hours of stimulating talks, featuring Tom Perry, Rita McCracken, Cait O’Sullivan, and Emma Reid of the Therapeutics Initiative, a UBC-based think-tank that rigorously analyzes evidence on which medications work and which don’t. “Deprescribing” was emphasized – trying to get by with fewer medications and eliminating those that may be harmful. Dr. Stuart Johnston provided a talk on hand injuries and conducted a practical workshop on tendon repair and skin flaps (using pigs’ legs), and Dr. Trevor Campbell spoke engagingly on non-drug treatment of chronic pain. Five exhibitor booths provided for extra learning opportunities, all completely free of pharmaceutical industry involvement.

So far, that’s not too unusual for a northern BC medical conference, but many similarities end there. Firstly, there was no registration fee for the 3D conference. Each northern BC community is entitled to Community Funds to devote to educational activities. The Tumbler Ridge physicians decided to use all of their reverted funds to create this regional conference of benefit to all, which physician groups in Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Valemount, McBride and Northern Health then generously supported, aided by a much appreciated donation from Conuma Coal.

Physician throwing a tree off the trail.

Resident physician from Fort St. John, BC Vikrant Grewal throwing a tree off the trail as the team worked to “give back” to the community of Tumbler Ridge.

Secondly, the palaeo theme reigned supreme, with the welcome supper served amid dinosaur attractions that are available nowhere else in BC. The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery was in ‘idling mode’ due to lack of funding, but Dr. McCrea, Dr. Buckley, and staff, all of whom had recently had their positions terminated due to the Museum funding situation, came in and conducted participants though four stations: the gallery, collections, preparation lab, and photogrammetry lab. Field trips followed to a dinosaur footprint site, a birding excursion, and a hike to the end of the magnificent Titanic Rock (expertly guided by the president of the local hiking club).

Thirdly, ‘payback’ for medical residents involved a team of ten working on the hiking trails immediately after the conference, chain-sawing deadfall and throwing it off the trail, thus contributing to the comfort of visitors and tourists to Tumbler Ridge.

Draws were held for spots on three jet-boats for tours to Kinuseo Falls, and the lucky winners had the privilege of seeing this great waterfall in full spate. Add in live violin music, a live band, a local comedian (the famous ‘Aunt Lizzie’), morning fitness runs, Float Fit and Tabatha classes in the pool, and all-in-all a unique learning environment was created, cementing the reputation of Tumbler Ridge as a conference destination with a special ambience.

Southern African physicians have contributed enormously to rural health care in BC over the past decades, and two short slideshows featured different aspects of this part of the world: clinics in Zimbabwe and fossil human footprints in South Africa. However, perhaps the most unexpected part of the conference happened later, after the banquet. Dr. Tom Perry, gravely concerned about the funding challenges of the dinosaur museum (with $50,000 needed in order to re-open) worked the crowd. Within a quarter of an hour $19,000 had been pledged, helping the museum significantly towards its goal!

As for the kids, it was all about Dinosaur Camp! Recently employed museum staff Debbie Gainor and Tammy Pigeon provided them with an unforgettable experience through two mornings of dinosaur crafts, microscope demonstration of dinosaur bones and teeth, using scribe tools, tours of parts of the museum that the public doesn’t get to see, and the making and painting of plaster casts of dinosaur tracks which they were able to take home as keepsakes.

At the end of a memorable weekend, participant evaluation forms reflected the high satisfaction rate for the conference, along with a much-heard sentiment: Can we please do 3D again in 2019?


For further information please contact:
Heather Gummow (250)565-5814 or
Dr. Charles Helm (250) 242-1101 or

Charles Helm

About Charles Helm

Charles Helm has been a family physician in Tumbler Ridge since 1992. He immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1986. He is the author of seven books on the Tumbler Ridge area, two on the history of the northern Rockies, and one on dinosaurs for kids. He has been an active explorer in the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, designing, building and maintaining hiking trails. His palaeontological interests, expressed through the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, have led to numerous fossil discoveries and scientific articles. He was instrumental in the successful proposal that led to the creation of the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark, the newest UNESCO site in western Canada. He and his wife Linda have two children, Daniel and Carina.