It has been a number of years - over 30 - since the Town of Snow Lake welcomed a new primary physician, and likely 20 years since we had a female doctor. At the mid-point of June, the community welcomed both, bundled as one, in the person of Dr. Eman Yousif.
Yousif is a 51 year-old general practitioner of Middle Eastern, Kurdish, decent. In explaining the spelling of her name, she says, "I always make a joke, an Elephant with a man - Eman. And Yousif is the Arabic version of Joseph." The doctor is married and her husband is also a physician; however, he is retired. She has one son who is currently attending his last year of an environmental science degree at the University of Winnipeg.
Yousif was born and raised in Iraq. She says that she always wanted to be a physician. "It was my childhood dream," Yousif said. "I was a straight "A" student and it was always my goal to become a doctor." Graduating in 1987, Yousif started work as a rotating physician for a period of two years, and then did an obligatory rural posting for another two years, followed by two years post- graduate work. "Then it was wartime and everything was upside down and unsafe and that is actually why we left," she said. Along with her husband and son, who was six at the time, they flew to Libya and resided there for six years.
They applied to come to Canada and Canadian immigration officials accepted her at this point, but because she was a physician and her husband a physician they were not allowed to leave. Undeterred, in 1998 they went to Europe, hoping to get refugee status. She says that the situation was very hard there. Following this, the family again decided on a move and was able to come to Canada. "And I'm glad we did," she adds. "It is a great country."
Arriving in Canada, they initially moved to British Columbia, as the only contact they had was a friend in that province. They began to find their way through the Canadian medical system. She took her International Medical Graduate exams and passed them all; however, Sept. 11, 2001 happened and everything began to slow down as a result of security concerns.
She didn't sit still, volunteering for a research program at BC Children's Hospital for six months, eventually turning it into a part-time job. Yousif found it afforded her some crucial contact with the system and helped her immensely by exposing her to the Canadian way of doing things.
Finally, after almost five years of waiting, the doctor says they received their papers from immigration. Being out of practice, she now had to do a refresher residency (practice under supervision). The family moved to Winnipeg and Yousif did this through the St. Boniface Hospital. There were 40 candidates applying to the International Medical Graduates program, 25 passed the assessment (3 days exams). The top six were chosen and Dr. Yousif was the first one. She was very happy to finally be in the system.
After her evaluation in Winnipeg, she was accepted by the Burntwood Regional Health Authority in Thompson. Following two years of clinical practice in Thompson, she went full-time in the emergency ward for a year. She found this rewarding, but taxing and looked for a move to a smaller community - Gillam presented itself. Yousif spent four years in Gillam; however, of late that community is booming and her practice had become very busy. Being the only physician there and on call 24/7, she found it exhausting. Looking at leaving the region, Snow Lake became available and was offered to her. She says that she had never been here, but came, looked, and liked what she saw. "I'm lucky to be here," she said. "I like the community and the people."
Asked for her initial impression of Snow Lake, Dr. Yousif says the first thing she noticed was the lake and the scenery. "I love the clinic being beside the water," said the doctor. Yousif adds that the people are friendly. Noting that there is a large elderly population, "I love to serve them," she said, and then explained how lucky we are in Canada, as compared to Iraq as far as system and specialist access. "And the rewarding thing about being in a smaller community is that you build a better physician-patient relationship and get to know them and serve them better as a primary health giver." As for the practice, "I think we need to update a few things in the clinic," the doctor said.
She says that she has discussed much of this with the health centre's manager, Kelly Wiwcharuk and that discussions will travel further over the coming month. Stating that the clinic needs to function better and serve the community better, Dr. Yousif feels running with electronic medical records will go a long ways in addressing this. Switch over to this system began at the outset of July.
Asked what she likes to do in her time off, Yousif replied, "You're going to laugh - I like grandmotherly stuff, sewing, knitting, and crocheting," she chuckled. "I love to read, generally, and walking and aerobics I do at home."
Asked if she'd ever curled, the doctor said, "I watch it and love the game and I would love to start curling."