Home away from home

Ru­ral New­found­land best medicine for South African doc­tor


When Dr. Gert Nel first ar­rived in Old Per­li­can from South Africa, he had planned to stay for three or four years at the most, and then move on to see some of the rest of the world be­fore re­turn­ing to his na­tive home­land.

That was in 1993, but Dr. Nel is still call­ing the Trin­ity Bay town his home. He has no re­grets for hav­ing stayed 18 years and no plans to leave any time soon.

The se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Dr. A. A. Wilkin­son Me­mo­rial Health Cen­tre was one of a group of young South African physi­cians who were com­ing to the prov­ince at the time “ just to learn the ropes” be­fore mov­ing on to greener pas­tures.

“As it worked out, I fell in love with the place and I stayed here,” Dr. Nel told The Com­pass dur­ing an in­ter­view at his of­fice on June 24.

“ I also got mar­ried to a New­found­lan­der, and I’m still here,” he said.

“ It is nice to work around the bay,” he ob­served. “If you’re a fam­ily physi­cian, you get to do a much broader scope of prac­tice. Rather than just clinic work, you get to do gen­eral hos­pi­tal work, pal­lia­tive care, small pro­ce­dures and emer­gency room.

“ Here you see peo­ple with heart at­tacks, strokes and all kinds of se­ri­ous things, which broad­ens the scope of your prac­tice.”

He also likes work­ing with a small staff, who usu­ally get along well.

“I have ex­cel­lent col­leagues and co-work­ers,” he said, re­fer­ring to the staff at Wilkin­son Me­mo­rial.

When you prac­tice in a smaller set­ting like Old Per­li­can, he said, “ you also get to know all your pa­tients. If you work here for a while, it gets to the point where you pretty much know ev­ery­body and what they have. So when they come into emer­gency, you al­ready know their med­i­cal back­ground.”

Dr. Nel, who lives only a cou­ple of hun­dred feet from Wilkin­son Me­mo­rial, is one of four physi­cians who pro­vide clin­ics there Mon­day through Fri­day.

“In ad­di­tion to my clinic, I also work reg­u­lar emer­gency room shifts, in-pa­tient and pal­lia­tive care and per­form mi­nor sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures.”

Feel­ing “ very for­tu­nate to work in a mod- ern well-equipped health care fa­cil­ity with ex­cel­lent and sup­port­ive staff and col­leagues,” he said, “ that is why Old Per­li­can be­came my home.” Cul­ture shock Mean­while, asked about the cul­ture shock of com­ing to this prov­ince, Dr. Nel replied, “there was a big cul­ture shock for sure.”

Al­though he had come from a small town in South Africa, he pointed out, “ but small town prob­a­bly in the range of Car­bon­ear — so this was re­ally small.”

The cli­mate change was an­other huge shock, but he’s adapted nicely, and loves win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties such as snow­mo­bil­ing.

He also en­joys four-wheel­ing and mo­tor­cy­cling.

“ If you’re a New­found­lan­der, you got to en­joy the out­doors.”

From left: Dr. Gert Nel, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Dr. A.A. Wilkin­son Me­mo­rial Health Cen­tre; Pa­tri­cia Noo­nan, head nurse and Vickie Kamin­ski, pres­i­dent and CEO of East­ern Health are seen here at the Old Per­li­can health cen­tre dur­ing a June 24 open house as part of cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing 75 years of health care ser­vices in the area.

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