From the moment she arrived, Dr. Leigh-Ann Smith says she fell in love with Bonnyville. Smith, along with husband and fellow physician, Stefan Palkowski, first came to Bonnyville as medical students, both for a site visit, and to visit her brother, who was a practising physician at the time. Impressed by what they saw, the couple returned home to South Africa to complete their training, and after a few years of family practice, they returned to Bonnyville to become part of the community.
“Bonnyville was a loving, caring community from the moment we arrived here,” explains Smith. “I can truly say that we felt welcome and safe, not only amongst the physicians, but all the other health care workers, and the staff, and even the community as a whole have really opened their arms embraced, and helped us out from the moment we arrived.”
According to Dr. Palkowski, upon arriving in Bonnyville their fellow physicians, the local physician attraction and retention committee, and the community ensured a support structure was in place to allow them to have a soft landing.
“On our first day here we had a dinner with the mayor, and the town, and all the hospital staff. We got offered to interest free loans to pay off over three years. We kind of got given the names of the people to be in contact with regarding home loans, car loans, banking accounts, cell phones. And they kind of helped to establish our practices with us,” says Palkowski.
Although rural living isn’t without speed bumps, Dr. Palkowski says that the kind of lifestyle a rural community can offer you is second to none.
“When you look at it as a whole, it's where you want to grow, and grow a family.” Palkowski adds. “Bonnyville offers a lot more than what you just see on the surface, and really it's community and the spirit of the community that in the end swayed us to relocate and move from our country, family and friends to a new country, new family, and new friends.”
Although the paperwork may at times be frustrating, and the process to come to Canada can be a long one, Dr. Smith says in the long run, the benefits far outweigh the frustrations.
“Don't be scared. I know big changes are usually quite scary. But really, the Canadian culture and all the community, they make it really easy for you to adapt and call a rural town your home.”