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.