BY BRETT REDDEN
In 1996, the cover of the Canadian Medical Journal featured a picture of seven physicians smiling in front of the signpost to the community of Marathon with the tagline “Youthful enthusiasm solves physician shortage.” Now, 20 years later, many of the faces have changed, but health-care services for Marathon and nearby communities have been sustained and strengthened.
The two constant physicians since that 1996 feature article – Dr. Eli Orrantia and Dr. Sarah Newbery – recently celebrated their 20th year of service in Marathon, and with that milestone acknowledge the work, energy and commitment of their colleagues as important elements in their successful retention story.
“When we moved to Marathon, we came here with a group of four other enthusiastic new graduates and joined Dr. Gord Hollway, who was the only physician here in practice at the time,” recalled Newbery. “We knew that as a physician couple it would be difficult to create a practice that would be sustainable if the area remained underserviced despite our presence. Creating a group of seven physicians in a setting with a funded designation for five physicians meant that while we would work hard, we would still be able to enjoy the kinds of things that make life in Northern Ontario a wonderful adventure.”
In 1996, the community of Marathon had one physician after having 85 physicians come and go in the preceding 10 years.
“Locum physicians provide a really important service in terms of maintaining day-to-day care, but they don’t generally get involved in maintaining the system of care,” said Newbery. “Having 85 physicians over 10 years meant that systems issues – policies, processes, etc. – had fallen by the wayside. A big part of what we have done is help create efficient systems of care that support safe and high quality care delivery.”
During their time in Marathon, Newbery and Orrantia saw the establishment of obstetrics, chemotherapy and paramedicine programs. A “first-wave” family health team was created in 2005. The practice became a sought-after teaching site, and they have been part of several initiatives from piloting North Network and teledermatology to supporting the development of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
“For us, the practice of rural medicine is about trying to provide the most service possible, safely, for local residents,” said Newbery. “Rural medicine is about stretching your skills to be able to serve the community. We are really fortunate to have had a terrific group of colleagues here over the years whose skills and interests helped build a practice both in the clinic and in the hospital setting that we think meets most of the community’s needs.”
“Healthy communities rely on accessible, quality medical care,” remarked Marathon mayor Rick Dumas. “Whether in the delivery room, emergency room, or clinic setting, Sarah and Eli provide compassionate and professional care. Thanks to them and their health team, Marathon is a safe and healthy community and a wonderful place to live, work, raise a family and retire.”
Brett Redden is the physician recruiter and retention coordinator for the Marathon Family Health Team.