Family medicine has taken Dr. Aymé Debesa Padilla on a journey from her native Cuba to her new home in Outlook, Saskatchewan, where she enjoys the “quiet, homey” atmosphere of the small town and the energizing challenges of establishing herself in a new practice.
Now feeling more settled, Dr. Debesa Padilla recounts that the journey was not an easy one. Despite having two professional jobs, she and her husband, a lawyer, were subject to the reality of living in a country with a tough economy. Working as a family physician in Cuba since she graduated in 2001, Dr. Debesa Padilla recalls, “it was really difficult to put food on the table, it’s as simple as that.”
The couple decided to come to Canada under the Foreign Skilled Worker program, fully aware of some of the hurdles of transferring their professional credentials to another country. They settled in Swift Current and later Cabri, Saskatchewan.
Fortunately, Dr. Debesa Padilla learned about Saskatchewan’s practice-ready assessment program, Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment (SIPPA). Launched in January 2011, SIPPA has graduated 24 cohorts over its eight years. It boasts a success rate of 98% in its clinical field assessments, with 327 physicians entering practice in Saskatchewan. SIPPA’s Medical Director, Dr. Jon Witt, credits the program’s success to SIPPA’s dedicated physician assessors as well as the screening done by SIPPA partner organizations such as saskdocs, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), and the examination processes supported by the Medical Council of Canada.
“I started writing the exams and getting my documents from Cuba,” explains Dr. Debesa Padilla. “It was a challenge to go through all the examinations and the process.”
“I was very grateful to be chosen by the SIPPA program. It’s very competitive.” She found it was also very rewarding. “I met a lot of wonderful people, both my colleagues and the assessors.”
In 2017, she started independent practice in Outlook, a town of just over 2,000 people located 80 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon, near Lake Diefenbaker.
A new life in Outlook
Dr. Debesa Padilla and her husband are enjoying life in a small town. “We come from a city with a population similar to that of Saskatoon. It was too crowded, too loud. We really enjoy being in a rural area.” Saskatoon is less than an hour’s drive away if they want to go to a movie or a concert, she noted. She also likes rural practice.
“People here are very warm and welcoming. You grow in that environment.
That’s one of the joys of working in a rural area.”
– Dr. Aymé Debesa Padilla,
Family Physician, Outlook, Saskatchewan
While there are differences in medical practice between Canada and Cuba — “it’s for sure more advanced here; Cuba is a developing country” — there are also similarities. She adds the Cuban health system was modelled on the UK National Health Service, and that’s similar, in turn, to the practice environment in Canada.
From assessment to coaching and mentoring
Dr. Witt makes a point of keeping in touch with SIPPA graduates once they are in practice, often in his role as an emergency physician and trauma team leader. Dr. Debesa Padilla says that maintaining contact with Dr. Witt has been a benefit and that she appreciates the value of his experience.
Talking with SIPPA graduates as colleagues “helps inform me about how the program needs to grow,” explains Dr. Witt. “I learn about areas where they’re doing well, areas where they are struggling.”
As a result, SIPPA is now exploring the possibility of introducing a program that would offer mentorship and coaching once physicians are in practice. “We are in the early stages of discussions with the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, the SHA and the Saskatchewan Medical Association to get that started.”
Back in Outlook, Dr. Debesa Padilla is putting down roots. She recently got a Cuban puppy. “He is surprisingly good in the winter.” And her mother, who lives in Spain, comes for long visits and has made friends of her own in Canada.
Dr. Witt affirms he has heard from friends in the area that Dr. Debesa Padilla is fitting into her new community. “They absolutely love her there!”