Creating community impact: Celebrating 10 years of MedLINCS

Two hours northeast of London, the picturesque town of Walkerton, Ontario appears out of a patchwork of rural farming fields and rolling hills. The tranquil Saugeen River snakes its way around the outer edge of heritage buildings, bringing an element of natural charm to the town of roughly 5,000 people.

This is Dr. Amanda Wilhelm’s, MD’14, home community, and the allure of the lifestyle she grew up with here has called her back to the Grey-Bruce region to complete her medical residency.  “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said. “I love the sense of community and belonging.”

But childhood memories and an idyllic setting aren’t the only reasons Dr. Wilhelm has returned to area. As a former participant in the Medical Learning in Community Settings (MedLINCS) program, she credits the elective opportunity with opening her eyes to the possibilities of practising rural-regional medicine.

“I don’t think you can ever underestimate the importance of that first clinical exposure,” she explained. “I’m practising the exact same type of medicine I learned my summer in MedLINCS.”

An elective for first and second year Schulich Medicine students, MedLINCS provides diverse clinical and teaching opportunities in rural medicine. And much like Walkerton, the dynamic small-town and regional communities that compose much of Southwestern Ontario are at the heart of the program.

Now celebrating its 10th year, MedLINCS (formerly MedQUEST) has enriched learners and communities alike through a variety of partnerships and activities.

"After 10 years of partnering with our communities, we have learned our trainees get a richer glimpse into community practice through experiences in offices, clinics, hospitals and recurring placements with a wide variety of health care providers,” said Dr. George Kim, assistant dean, Rural & Community Engagement. “The students get a perspective into what 'real medicine' is all about."

MedLINCS participants experience community medicine through a variety of clinical rotations with family physicians, specialists and allied health professionals. Throughout its first decade, support for Schulich Medicine learners has come from local hospitals and health centres, family health teams, emergency teams, long-term care facilities and many more.  

Learners also work collaboratively with community partners. This includes organizing the popular, week-long health career exploration camp delivered to local high school students. The goal of the camp is to develop interest for medicine and health professions in young people, creating a continuum of future learners pursuing health-related fields.

Mock disaster scenarios are a key element of this fun and formative week. Local emergency service crews, health professionals and volunteer actors stage the scenarios to create realistic portraits of how a major emergency incident would unfold.

The impact of these disaster scenarios has also reached beyond educating local youth, providing training and accreditation opportunities for many local EMS teams.

As a MedLINCS participant in 2011, Dr. Wilhelm took part in these activities, working alongside local physicians for six weeks in the Walkerton area. The program reaffirmed her notions of what rural medicine entails.

“Growing up in the area, my idea of what a doctor did was all encompassing,” she said. “My family doctor did everything and I entered medical school with the goal of doing the same. MedLINCS proved to me that it was possible.”  

Dr. Wilhelm is certainly applying the jack-of-all-trades approach to her medical career. As a resident with the Rural – Hanover Program, she works in family medicine, as well as obstetrics and emergency medicine.

The physicians who worked with her that first summer, Drs. Jacqueline Wong and Kristine Schipper, made a particularly powerful impression in steering her toward this path. “My physician mentors played a bigger role than they’ll ever know in my choosing family medicine and wanting to come back to the area,” she said.

The second-year resident is paying this mentorship forward. She is now involved in MedLINCS from a teaching perspective, assisting with presentations and taking on Schulich Medicine students to observe her work.

“When I started working with first year medical students this year, I realized just how much other people shaped how I practise medicine today, so hopefully I can do the same for others,” she said.

These are the types of outcomes MedLINCS is celebrating at the 10-year mark – Dr. Wilhelm is one of several former participants to return to rural Ontario to set-up practice.

Like rolling hills and farming fields, the program has become another tie that binds Southwestern Ontario communities. After 10 years, hundreds of participants and countless community partners and volunteers, the School’s responsibility and service to the wider region has been significantly strengthened.