Island med school grad comes home

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Doctor Ben Quackenbush may be Little Current’s newest family physician, but he is no stranger to Manitoulin having grown up in Little Current and graduating from Manitoulin Secondary School 12 years ago.

The young doctor is a poster child for the Northern Ontario Medical School (NOSM) having grown up, attended medical school, completed his residency, and set up his practice all in Northern Ontario.

“The NOSM is allowing individuals to study where they live and want to practice,” said Dr. Quackenbush. “Before NOSM, you had to move to where the medical schools were, and that’s where the students formed relationships and lives, making it less likely they would return to the North.”

Throughout his childhood, the son of a nurse at the Manitoulin Health Centre and a paramedic, Dr. Quackenbush knew he wanted to follow in his parent’s footsteps and pursue a career in the medical profession.

“I considered different professions, but I knew I wanted to work in the medical field and to help people,” explained Dr. Quackenbush. “Becoming a doctor wasn’t something I always wanted to do, but throughout high school it was in the back of my mind.”

He attended the University of Guelph for his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science before procuring a Masters of Public Health at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

In 2005, Dr. Quackenbush applied and was accepted into the inaugural class of the NOSM.

“It was a new innovative program,” said Dr. Quackenbush. “There can be a lot of pros and cons to a new program, but I felt being part of the first class made for better learning. We were out in rural communities that were not used to medical students and therefore, there weren’t the same expectations from community members that exists in cities.”

Throughout his four years of medical school and two years of residency, Dr. Quackenbush travelled across the North, working a great deal on Manitoulin in Little Current, Gore Bay, and Aundeck Omni Kaning.

During his time in Aundeck Omni Kaning, he learned about the balance of traditional medicine with Western treatment. “It was a good Aboriginal placement,” he told The Expositor back in 2009. “It gave me a chance to see a different perspective on the Island.”

Throughout his schooling he completed rotations in pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, but his experience of practicing medicine in “the country” for eight months, an experience unique to NOSM, captured the young doctor’s attention the most.

When it came time for Dr. Quackenbush to decide where he would settle with his family and set up his practice, he knew he wanted it to be a rural setting.

“I wanted to remain in the North and practice in a rural area because I enjoy the varied practice it entails,” he said. “It keeps your skills and interest up.”

During his time in Little Current, Dr. Quackenbush was impressed with the health team. “They have a really excellent staff of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals here,” he said. “The proactive model (rostered patients and salaried employment) here was important too. I really think that patients get a better level of service under this model, rather than the fee for service. You can spend more time with the patient.”

Dr. Quackenbush started in Little Current last Monday with his first shift at the clinic, taking over for Dr. Anahita Ariana who departed last year. Many of her former patients will now be assigned to Dr. Quackenbush.

He told The Expositor that it was a busy shift, but that he was feeling right at home thanks to the great staff making it easy to fit in.

Dr. Quackenbush’s family, including his wife Sarah, originally from Mindemoya, and two sons, aged two and four months, are no stranger to travelling around, but are happy to be settled in their new house in Little Current close to family.

When asked about balancing family and the demands of his new job, Dr. Quackenbush explained that he has been juggling the two since residency, but that his most important rule is “no work at home.” His new house is only 100 meters from the hospital, making it easy to go into the office and keep his home life separate. “When I’m home I want to be fully home and spend time with my boys and family,” he explained.

Earlier this month, Mayor Joe Chapman and the North East Town Council presented Dr. Quackenbush and his wife with a cheque for $5,000 to help cover their moving expenses.

“We were very grateful for their recognition,” said Dr. Quackenbush. “I think it’s important for communities in the North to demonstrate an interest in recruiting doctors and to show that they value new doctors who choose to live and practice in Northern communities.”

The Island poster child encourages youth who are considering a career in the medical profession to continue studying in their field of interest and to work hard while maintaining a balanced life. “NOSM looks for well rounded students, not just high marks,” said Dr. Quackenbush, “And they favour students from Northern Ontario.”