Northern Health provides health services to 300,000 people over an area of 600,000 square kilometres in British Columbia – about two thirds of the province!
As B.C.’s population ages (the north has the highest projected growth rate of seniors in the province), Northern Health will require more healthcare students and new graduates to help continue building a strong primary healthcare system.
But since most healthcare students attend school, live and train in urban centres, it can be challenging to attract them to Northern Health’s dozens of acute care facilities, long term care facilities, public health units and offices providing specialized services in communities which range in size from a few hundred to more than 77,000 residents.
Birgit LeBlanc recognizes that, for many students and new grads, moving away from friends and family to a smaller, more remote place can seem like a frightening proposition. As Northern Health’s Regional Manager of Recruitment, she leads the team that recruits for all professions other than physicians.
Her biggest piece of advice for new graduates is to try out careers in locations such as northern B.C. for a few years to see how you like it. “It’s a new adventure. You can do it for a couple of years; you’re young. It’s a new part of your journey and you should at least try it out to say that you’ve done it,” she says. “Odds are you’ll love it and you will probably end up staying.”
Keep reading to find out why Birgit and Northern Health‘s other 7,400 employees love living in northern British Columbia and working for Northern Health.
Q. What is it like to live in northern British Columbia?
A. It’s a beautiful day out here today. Just gorgeous! We don’t have a huge amount of snow, but everything is pristine white, the sun is shining and there’s a clear blue sky.
People from outside Northern Health will almost think of anything outside of Prince George as being quite remote, but it’s not. We’ve had people come from all over the world to work with us and they just love it once they get here. It’s breathtaking. It’s a wonderful place to live!
Such a beautiful landscape provides lots of recreational opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful weather on days like today!
Q. What kind of work environment do students and new grads experience at Northern Health?
A. If you come in with the right mindset – you’re self-motivated, you’ve got direction, you’re focused, and you want to align with our organization’s goals and strategic direction – you will find a challenging work environment with lots of room to grow. Because some of our areas are remote, you get to do a lot more than you would at healthcare centres in larger communities. Here, for lack of a better word, you’re like a Jack- or Jacqueline-of-all-trades. You can have richer experiences that way.
Also, you have the opportunity to rub elbows with senior leadership almost on a daily basis. You can meet them in the hallway and have great conversations. It’s a more intimate working environment.
Q. What types of people fit in best at Northern Health?
A. We are very team-focused and we are moving toward having more interdisciplinary teams. No matter what your profession is, you will be an integral part of a team whose members are from a variety of professions. We are looking for team players so having strong interpersonal skills becomes very important.
We’re a very collaborative health authority and we look for that in the people we hire as well. We want to know: Are you a team player who works well within a team? Are you collaborative? We’re really looking for the team fit. We want to make sure you’re a real team player so we’ll be asking you to highlight that in your interview.
Q. How does Northern Health’s recruitment team figure out who to hire?
A. We do a lot of work before we actually hire someone. Over the last year and a half, we’ve restructured and focused our efforts to be more proactive instead of reactive.
Instead of waiting for a vacancy to appear, we regularly speak to our hiring managers and ask them about their demographics to find out, for example, if they have someone nearing retirement age or planning to go on maternity leave. Once we determine that, we ask them: What are the competencies required for this job? What might make someone struggle in this role? What’s the work culture like on this team? What are you like as a manager?
These questions are part of the needs assessments we do with our hiring managers before we start the recruiting process. It’s not only about a candidate being qualified for the role – it’s about the role fitting the person, the organization fitting the person and vice versa, and the hiring manager fitting the person.
Q. Do you have any career advice for healthcare students?
A. Your practicum or preceptorship is a perfect opportunity for you to get some experience in more remote locations to see if you like it. You have to come up and see it. When you look at it on a map, it might look isolated, but once you get to those communities you’ll find they are wonderful and welcoming communities. They embrace healthcare workers. It’s like you’re part of a big family.
In Vanderhoof (a town of about 4,000 people located in central B.C.) for example, we’re having a real challenge finding ultrasonographers and yet we have brand new, state-of-the-art equipment at the hospital. Imagine being a new graduate working in a facility with top-of-the-line equipment. Prince George is only an hour down the road and you’re at an international airport where you can fly anywhere in the world.
Q. What would you say to a new grad who’s unsure about moving to northern B.C. to start his or her career?
A. Try it out, even if it’s just for a couple of years. I don’t want new grads to think that we’re always trying to recruit people to stay for 25 years. When you’re young, odds are you aren’t thinking 25 years down the road, right? It’s OK if you just come and kick the tires with us. Try us out.
We’re confident you’ll like our communities, the people, the work environment, and you’ll love Northern Health as an organization. I speak about Northern Health with great pride and you’ll hear that everywhere when you join us. You don’t have to join us for a lifetime. Come up, try us out for a couple years and then make up your mind. Your relationship with Northern Health doesn’t need to be a lifetime commitment – but it can be if you want it to be!
Many young people at Northern Health have come from large cities and they just love it here. They’re ecstatic about the outdoors and all the opportunities they have, both professionally and personally. In these communities it’s quite easy to develop a close network of friends because there are other young people up here working in their chosen career. They also enjoy the social aspects of it and have a healthy work life balance.