This month’s Resident Spotlight is with Dr. Quinn Gentles, a PGY-4 in General Surgery. We chatted with Dr. Gentles about his interest in rural work, finding the right place to do your training to focus on rural-centered skills, and the balancing act of personal life and a rural residency.
You recently became a resident member of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons – Rural Surgical Committee, which has reinvigorated their mentorship program to help support and train surgeons in rural settings. How has it been working on the Committee, and being involved in starting up the mentorship program once again?
It has really been fantastic to get involved with CAGS in a way that supports rural and community surgery. Both meeting rural surgeons who are passionate about their practice styles and settings as well as other residents across the country who are keen on community has affirmed my career aspirations. I hope the mentorship program continues to grow and residents who are considering practicing in smaller centres feel they have somewhere to learn more and get connected.
The experiences of urban and rural training can be very different. What have been some of the challenges you have faced working in Vancouver while pursuing your interest in working rurally?
I think practice in a smaller centre has good deal of overlap with that of urban settings, but there are many aspects of rural practice that are unique to that setting. Acquiring knowledge and experience with procedures and conditions that you would not normally be involved with in a larger center does present a challenge. I think our program does a good job later in residency in giving us the chance to train and learn across the province, and it’s in those settings that we finally get exposure to these unique aspects. Personally, I have tried to take any opportunity to explore community learning experiences and not shied away from taking part in cases that might be outside normal the scope of urban general surgery.
How do you personally go about finding the right balance in obtaining training relevant to your rural-focused interests? Do you have any words of advice for other residents who may be interested in pursuing a rural location post-residency?
I think the best advice I can give is to not be afraid to ask and explore. If you’re curious about something you are not seeing – ask about how you can gain that exposure. I think there are many reasons that the scope of a specialties practice becomes well defined, but its’ important to occasionally challenging those divisions and go outside your comfort zone. I have tried to balance my time in residency between both urban and rural settings and sought out more remote experiences to see how practice styles differ. Soon I am off to Whitehorse what General Surgery looks like in a more remote setting. I am excited to learn more about the creative solutions and skills are employed to help patients when not every resource is immediately available. Of course, I would also encourage anyone interested to get involved with the CAGS Rural Surgery Committee and the mentorship program!
Residency training takes place across multiple sites, which often means that families and/or partners are separated for stretches of time—especially when heading out to a rural site. You and your partner experience this personally. What do you do to stay connected together? Have there been any unexpected challenges coming up that you hadn’t considered, and if so, how have you managed to overcome them?
It’s really hard to be apart for any extended period of time. There is no way around that in residency. I think anyone in medicine realizes that it’s about quality over quantity when comes to personal time. My partner and I are proactive about scheduling time to connect whether that’s virtual like everything else these days or pulling together a quick weekend away. In community call can be for extended periods of time because volume is at times less than in urban centres. This can make scheduling family time tough. I have found though that staff in community sites realize this struggle and will help you make the timing work to stay close with your loved ones. I have found that work-life balance is emphasized among those working in community practice. It’s one of many values in community that I really align with both for residency and future practice.
Lastly, you have a marked interest in rural work. Will you be leaving Vancouver upon your graduation to pursue being a rural surgeon? What are your plans for after residency?
I hope that after residency my wife and I can find a community that we both fit into. I am trying to do as many community electives as possible and she plans to locum to meet new groups and explore new places. Jobs can be tight in surgical practice, but I think if you get along well with the people you work with and have supportive collogues every community has something to offer. Having a ski hill close by would really be the cherry on the cake. Fingers crossed!