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January 10, 2012

Proving Naysayers Wrong Fuels Dream of Opening Family Practice in Fort Smith

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From The Vancouver Sun; Written by Chris Zdeb.

James Van Camp loves a challenge.

Tell him he can’t do something and you encourage him to prove that he can.

It’s how the former class clown passed Grade 10 math, graduated high school as valedictorian, and decided to become a medical doctor.

Van Camp, 29, is in his third year of medicine at the University of Alberta partly because a biology professor at the University of Calgary once dismissively refused to answer another student’s complicated physiology question after surveying the 150 to 200 students in the class and concluding, ‘Nobody in here is going to be a doctor.’

“Not only did he disrespect us, but he also belittled our accomplishments to that point and that was when I started to think about becoming a doctor ... and started to practise medical college admission test questions.”

Van Camp admits his desire to get into medicine wasn’t particularly altruistic initially. “It was more that I could fill the gaps that need to be filled in smaller, rural communities,” he says, something he picked up in his home town of Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories.

His mark wasn’t high enough to get him into medical school the first time he wrote the admission test, but it lit a fire within him to seriously pursue medicine, so Van Camp went back to university and took two years of prerequisite courses for med school. His admission test was so high the second time he took it he started getting emails from medical schools around the world inviting him to apply.

“That’s kind of when I realized my skills might be wanted in this domain, and why I wanted to do medicine. Also, my grandfather was a medicine man.”

When Van Camp, a member of the Tlicho First Nation, was in his early 20s, his grandfather died and his mom told him that his grandfather’s ability for medicine was supposed to pass down to one of his descendants. The youngest of four boys, Van Camp figured he was “the one” since his oldest brother Richard is an author, and the other two, Roger Wah-Shee and Johnny, are lawyers.

He loves Fort Smith, a town of 2,400, where he was born and raised, and plans to practise family medicine there one day.

“I don’t like the whole anonymity thing that people living in a big city can sometimes get by on,” Van Camp says. “I like the accountability and responsibility bestowed upon people who live in smaller centres."

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