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More young doctors returning home to Sarnia-Lambton to practice medicine

Troy Shantz Youth who leave for higher education and don't return is a loss for Sarnia-Lambton, but at least one group is bucking the trend - young doctors.
Dr. Julie Lebert has joined the staff of Bluewater Health as a medical oncologist. Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

Youth who leave for higher education and don't return is a loss for Sarnia-Lambton, but at least one group is bucking the trend - young doctors.

More than half of the 34 family physicians secured by the Sarnia-Lambton Physician Recruitment Task Force are local folk returning home, said spokesperson Carly Cox.

“It’s certainly a trend. Sixty-eight per cent of our recruits have some sort of connection to Sarnia.”

The latest is Wyoming native Dr. Julie Lebert, who has joined Bluewater Health’s growing oncology department.

The married mother of three is the second general oncologist to join the hospital, which was recognized by Cancer Care Ontario recently for improved wait times.

“I think they’re doing an excellent job and I’m excited to be part of that team,” Lebert told The Journal.

Sarnia native Dr. Amit Rahalkar also joined the medical staff at Bluewater Health recently, and is one of the few physicians in Southern Ontario specializing in endocrinology.

The homeward pull was strong as well for Corunna native Dr. Blake Pearson, Dr. Mark Mousseau, a hospitalist, and St. Christopher grad Dr. Will Southcott, who practices at the London Road Diagnostic Clinic.

“Honestly, I think it’s because Sarnia is such a treasure. People don’t understand what Sarnia has to offer until you actually are here and get to experience it,” said Cox.

Dr. Lebert’s resume is impressive. She finished top of her class at the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University and was awarded the Alumni Gold Medal for academic achievement.

She specialized in Medical Oncology at Memorial University and has a Master’s degree in chemical biology.

Improving cancer treatment has been a passion since her high school days at LCCVI in Petrolia, she said.

“I think what drove me to oncology is just the fact that it’s rapidly evolving. The treatments are becoming better tolerated with a better quality of life… even over the past two years,” she said. “It’s amazing, and a really interesting field.”

The decision to return to Sarnia-Lambton was influenced by family ties and her husband, a PhD in chemistry who landed a position at Arlanxeo.

“The stars really aligned,” she said. “I like the idea of a community physician and being able to maybe have a large impact on the community, and having that community relationship.

“I feel like you can really give back to the community when it’s a smaller centre.”

One challenge when recruiting doctors is finding work for their spouses. Candidates have been lost because of limited jobs opportunities, Cox said.

Aware that many local medical students want to work in Sarnia-Lambton, the Taskforce developed a program that pairs them with local physicians to complete electives. The Taskforce covers the student’s travel and accommodation and compensates the training practitioner, she said.

“The idea is for them to get familiar with their colleagues, kind of get their name out,” she said. “Then, hopefully, they get a residency position (in Southwestern Ontario) so they’re close to home and we can ultimately land them here.”

Recruitment, she added, can begin early in a student’s schooling and take years to yield a positive result.

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