Dr. Stephen Akinkunmi, the newest physician at the Ashcroft Family Medical Practice, admits that he did not join the clinic at an ideal time.
His first day there was Monday, March 16. That was the week when the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic began necessitating lockdowns, shutdowns, and closures, and while the practice remained open, it switched to telephone and video consultations.
“I’m not known by the community because of COVID-19,” says Akinkunmi. “Most people don’t know there’s another physician here, and they haven’t been able to interact with me because of COVID-19.”
He wants to assure residents that he is very much here, and accepting new patients, although he is currently working in Lillooet right now, in order to sharpen his knowledge of the emergency department. His last day in Lillooet is June 29, after which he will return to Ashcroft full-time, but he is currently in the community at least one day a week, on Tuesdays, to see patients at the clinic. Once he has finished his work in Lillooet he says he wants to continue to take training, to learn more about rural, emergency, and First Nations health care.
Akinkunmi, who is from Nigeria, practiced medicine there for 17 years before deciding to come to Canada in 2015. “I felt that Canada would be a nice place to practice, somewhere I could raise my family in a better way, even though I was established in Nigeria.” He has two children, a boy and girl aged 12 and 10 respectively, and his wife is a medical lab technologist.
“She practiced in Nigeria for 10 years, and when we came to Canada went to school as a lab technician, and is now certified here.” Akinkunmi adds that he only made the decision to move to Canada after discussing it with his family. “They supported the idea. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have come. I’m a man of democracy, and I take counsel from my wife and children.”
He and his family originally settled in Windsor, Ontario, with Akinkunmi travelling between there and Nigeria to continue his practice. When he successfully passed his exams, he moved to Canada permanently, and began looking to see where he wanted to practice.
He found out about B.C.’s Practice Ready Assessment program, which is designed for internationally educated family physicians who have completed residencies in Family Medicine outside of Canada and who want to become licensed in British Columbia. Akinkunmi took part in the program in 100 Mile House (“A very good, very nice place”) and passed his exams early in 2020.
He had already decided to come to Ashcroft to practice. “I wanted to come here because of my interest in the rural environment. Sometimes you don’t have much access to good health care [in rural areas] compared to people in big cities.
“My son enjoys soccer, and my daughter enjoys singing and dancing, so I knew they would like it. It’s a good environment for children.” At the moment his family lives in Kamloops, with Akinkunmi living in Ashcroft and shuttling between the communities.
Akinkunmi has a background in women’s health, with post-graduate training in obstetrics. “One of the reasons I came to Ashcroft was because I heard that pregnant women had to go to Kamloops or Vancouver. I was asked if I could make use of my expertise in obstetrics, and I decided to come here and use my experience. It’s something we can offer the community.”
He notes that in Canada, before you can practice in some specialty areas you need to obtain certification to show that you have the necessary requirements. To that end, a process was being set up so that he could shadow an obstetrician and a gynecologist in Kamloops when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, so that has been put on hold for the time being.
“It’s difficult to say when it will be back on track. Everything has to do with COVID-19. At the end of it, though, after the sessions, we’ll be able to set up an ante-natal clinic in Ashcroft, and we could have low-risk deliveries of low-risk pregnancies in Ashcroft.
“It’s painful when I see pregnant women having to move around to deliver. About three weeks ago I went to Vancouver in my wife’s new car, and I was panting when I got there. I can only imagine how patients feel, having to go to Vancouver.”
The Ashcroft clinic is still doing consultations by phone and video, but in-clinic appointments with the physicians have also resumed. “We’re now in the second phase [of reopening] and we’ve started opening to the public again gradually. The clinic has procedures in place to make sure that patients and staff are protected, so we’re able to see people via other means than telehealth. Some people complained about the telephone consultations.”
Anyone who wants to book a consultation with any of the three physicians at the clinic, or who would like to sign on as a patient of Dr. Akinkunmi, should call the practice at (250) 453-9353.
“I just want people to know we have a new family physician in Ashcroft who has no intention of leaving,” he says. “People say the physicians here come and go, but I don’t see any reason why people would leave. I’ve been practising for 17 years and I have a passion for people. I came here with my family, and I see it as a home.”