Above Image: Dr. Tobias Gelber
Beginning in 2002, the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan began recognizing long-serving rural physicians with the Rural Physician Award of Distinction. Wishing to shine a light on those outstanding physicians who had made significant contributions to rural medicine within the first five to ten years of graduation from medical residency, the Early Careerist Award program was initiated in 2005.
The initial award proposal called upon nominees to be “innovative, energetic and passionate about rural medicine and the rural lifestyle. They are seen to be current or future icons in their field and are making a difference for their clients, their community and medical practice.”
Dr. Michael Kolber
Exemplifying the spirit of the award was Dr. Michael Kolber, the first recipient of the RPAP Early Careerist Award in 2005. Nominated by colleagues and residents of the Peace River community, Dr. Kolber was named the recipient based on his superior community contributions and commitment, his teaching of medical students and residents, and his commitment and passion for rural practice and rural lifestyle.
Do you think rural doctors are at home most nights taking it easy with their families? Think again.
In celebration of his achievement, Peace River and area residents were invited to ‘ski for free,’ and enjoy a BBQ and dance co-hosting by RPAP and the community on Sunday, February 26 at the Misery Mountain Ski Hill. RPAP capitalized on the groundswell of support for Dr. Kolber, and the physician’s congenial nature, to produce a video exploring what it was like to be physician in rural Alberta, featuring the 2005 RPAP Early Careerist Award.
Dr. Ian Seal
The following year another northern Alberta physician, Dr. Ian Seal of Slave Lake, was named the second recipient of the Early Careerist Award, based on his contributions to rural medicine, service to First Nations in his community and his positive promotion of the attributes of a successful rural practice.
Dr. Seal was celebrated at a wine and cheese reception at the Sawridge Hotel in Slave Lake on October 6, 2006, attended by family, friends, and representatives and residents of local First Nations communities and local health authorities. Touching tributes were delivered during the evening program that spoke to Dr. Seal’s outstanding energy and passion for rural medicine and the rural lifestyle.
Dr. Tobias Gelber
Two years later, the first southern Alberta physician was selected as recipient of the Early Careerist Award: Dr. Tobias Gelber of Pincher Creek. Dr. Gelber was recognized in a celebration on October 4, 2008. In presenting the award, Dr. Clayne Steed, RPAP Board Chair, stated Dr. Gelber was recognized for his rural commitment, participation in innovation in the community and the region (EMR and PCN) and his involvement in teaching.
“He is an excellent role model for physicians early in their careers,” Dr. Steed added.
Dr. Siegfriedt Heydenrych
After a two year hiatus, the final Early Careerist Award was presented in 2011 to Dr. Siegfriedt Heydenrych of Cold Lake, a physician whose leadership had been vital in addressing his community’s health care challenge.
According to Dr. Clayne Steed, Chairman of the RPAP Board of Directors, the board selected Dr. Heydenrych because of his enthusiasm and commitment to rural practice, his participation in medical leadership at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre and Primary Care Network (PCN), and his involvement in teaching.
“As one of the nominees from his community stated, “the hospital is his life”. In our view, Dr. Heydenrych epitomizes the outstanding passion and dedication to rural medicine and community that the award recognizes.”
Dr. Heydenrych was honoured at an event in Cold Lake co-sponsored by the RPAP and the Cold Lake Hearts for Healthcare Coalition, an initiative of the Cold Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, in October 2011.
Although a valuable tool, confusion over the Early Careerist concept contributed greatly to dwindling numbers of nominations, leading to the award being discontinued in 2013.
RPAP is now reviewing new ways of celebrating the vital contributions these healthcare role models make early on in their careers.