Albertas Best Kept Secret

Shane Ethier, Mike Durnford, Ken Doucette and John McBride are all Physician Assistants providing medical care to patients in the Shell Albian Oil Sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The best part is that they are all part of the same team. Shane, Mike, Ken and John are all employed at Jackpine Medical Centre owned by Shell Energy Canada. An interesting fact is that this is not the first time that these men have worked together. All four men are retired Canadian Forces members and in fact, three of these men trained together to complete their Physician Assistants program in Borden Ontario at the Canadian Force Health Services Training Centre.

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The medical center where these men work is a small clinic providing care to 5000+ workers. Registered nurses and physician assistants work in unison with an Emergency Response Team. Patients are diversified and present with minor common ailments to more emergent acute cases, as well as various occupational injuries and trauma. Shifts are 12 hour days, with two weeks on and two weeks off. Shane, Mike, Ken and John work in teams of two and rotate two week periods. The PAs at Jack Pine are also responsible for providing advanced life support care to the surrounding communities. What John finds is the most challenging aspect of this job is that “he never knows what is going to walk through his door!”

The most rewarding thing that Shane gets from his job often comes from his patients who, time and again, tell him how appreciative they are of the service provided at the medical centre. “In our practice we are able to take the time to thoroughly explain to patients their conditions and rationale for treatments and to effectively care for their needs.” “Many have told me that their usual primary care providers seem too busy to do the same. In fact, at our site, many don’t have a primary care provider and to them, we are the only clinicians they have seen for years.”

All four men find their roles to be very fulfilling but find it discouraging that so many people are still unaware of the PA profession. Shane comments that “he often feels a little like a car salesman trying to sell the profession.” Shane and his colleagues have found that there is still a huge portion of Canadians who are unaware that the profession exists.

When asked what they would like to see for the future of the PA profession in Canada, John commented that he wished that “PAs were as widely accepted as doctors and nurse practitioners.” In their current clinical setting PAs work quite closely with NPs and physicians and they have a very amicable collaborative relationship among them. All professionals in Jack Pine Medical Centre have a mutual respect for each other and this is why the model works well and their patients are extremely satisfied with the level of care that the team provides to them.

Shane commented that he would like to see provincial and municipal funding for positions in communities that lack physician services. Having one or two PAs in a small community with the ability to reach out to an off-site physician supervisor would go a long way to improving patient outcomes. These men would also like to see the profession integrated fully across Canada. Mike, John and Ken are all from the East Coast and would like the ability to eventually return home to their roots to assist the patients in their communities. For now they are content working in the oil sands and feel very proud to be among the first PAs working in the civilian sector inAlberta.