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Scholarship provides $25K for med students

Carl Hnatyshyn

By Carl Hnatyshyn, Postmedia Network

Medical students Meghan Piccinin, Rachelle Lassaline, Jasmine Davies and Mihir Soparkar were the inaugural recipients of the Norma and Don Moore Scholarship, a scholarship administered through the Sarnia Community Foundation and given to medical students in the hopes of attracting them to practice to Lambton County. Carl Hnatyshyn/Postmedia Network

Medical students Meghan Piccinin, Rachelle Lassaline, Jasmine Davies and Mihir Soparkar were the inaugural recipients of the Norma and Don Moore Scholarship, a scholarship administered through the Sarnia Community Foundation and given to medical students in the hopes of attracting them to practice to Lambton County. Carl Hnatyshyn/Postmedia Network

Four medical students, all with family connections to Lambton County, are the first recipients of a scholarship fund aimed at attracting new doctors to practice in the region.

Mihir Soparkar, Meghan Piccinin, Jasmine Davies and Rachelle Lassaline were the inaugural recipients of the Norma and Don Moore Scholarship, scholarships worth $6,250 each and administered by the Sarnia Community Foundation.

The money for the scholarships was provided by Oil Springs' Don Moore, who donated $1 million to the foundation in 2017 in honour of his late wife Norma, in the hopes of bringing more health care professionals to the region.

Moore was deeply affected by the death of his wife, said Sarnia Community Foundation executive director Jane Anema, and because of that experience he and his family realized the importance of bringing new doctors, specialists, nurse practitioners and medical professionals to practice in Lambton County.

One of the conditions for recipients of the scholarship is they indicate an intent to practice medicine in Lambton County in the future.

“In this particular instance, Norma Moore – Don's wife – had struggled with a number of medical issues towards the end of her life. And so (Don) was really passionate about having proper health care available,” Anema said. “They are rural, they live towards the bottom of the county, so that whole accessibility piece was important to them and that was the intent behind the gift.

“We took the gift and now we're able to give back on a continuous basis to help him do what we do, which is to help good people do great things today, tomorrow and forever.”

With the Foundation investing Moore's $1 million last year, the dollar amount of the scholarships will continue to grow in coming years, Anema said. While total funds for this year's scholarships sat at $25,000, next year's amount for scholarships might well be closer to $50,000 to $60,000, she said, which will be a huge boon in attracting medical professionals to Lambton County.

“And as the fund gets bigger, we may be able to string it out to PSWs and other health providers in the network,” she said.

Joined by family, Don Moore, Moore's daughter Jan Fuller, Sarnia Community Foundation board member Bruce Scott and Sarnia-Lambton Physician Recruitment Task Force board chair Judy Krall during a brief ceremony on May 2, all four medical students expressed their gratitude to the Moore family and the Foundation for the scholarship.

“It's very generous, definitely,” said Soparkar, a former Sarnia resident now studying medicine at the University at Buffalo. “I think it's a great initiative – Sarnia-Lambton definitely needs physicians and providers, so this is a great way to attract people back.”

Attracting doctors with a connection to the region is also imperative, said Lassaline, a first-year student at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, because they know exactly what challenges face the residents of Lambton County.

“I grew up in Petrolia and we've definitely been affected by physicians leaving the community,” she said. “Our family ended up not having a family doctor for a year until we could find one. And there's also the problem of getting specialists in the area, that's always been a real struggle out here.”

“I think initiatives like this are important, because people who have ties here understand what's great about Sarnia and Lambton County,” Davies, who is in her second year of studying family medicine, added.

“I know people who have come from other areas and don't really realize it until they're here that we're close to the water, we have great people, there's no traffic, we're close to the States if you want to go there,” she said. “And on top of that the community is really close-knit and caring, and it's really nice to have that support. But when you have those ties here, you really realize (the benefits) of practicing here.”

Krall said she and other members of the physician recruitment task force were thrilled with the idea of the scholarship, hoping that it would help in their attempts to fill upcoming vacancies that are coming sooner rather than later.

“I do hope these students come back – there's such a need in Sarnia-Lambton for physicians right now,” Krall said following the ceremony. “There are a number of retirements coming up – we figure 15 over the next three years and we desperately need people to come back and practice here and fill those gaps.

“This scholarship is a huge benefit in achieving that. Schooling is not cheap, so it's a great way to help these medical students pay for their education and consider coming back and practicing here.”