News at Medicine - November 2014 - Growing the roots of a healthy community

Growing the roots of a healthy community
November 20, 2014
By Sharon Gray
Dr. Michael Jong has a sense of adventure and a heart of gold. Originally from Malaysia, he moved to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 1982 after training in internal medicine in England. Over the last three decades has become a cornerstone of the community. 
During a two-year break from 1989-91 to complete a Family Medicine residency at Memorial, Dr. Jong with other faculty members at Memorial  developed the Northern Family Medicine Education Program (NorFam), which allows family medicine residents to spend up to a year of their two-year residency training in the north. 

“If you train someone in a rural area, they’re more likely to return to a rural area,” said Dr. Jong, noting that most of the physicians staffing the Labrador Health Centre are medical graduates of Memorial, or did their family medicine training through Memorial. 
As a teacher, Dr. Jong is well-known for leading yearly wilderness camping adventures for residents so they get some knowledge of living conditions in Labrador. He is popular with medical students too and in 2007 was selected as the Community Physician of the Year by the graduating class. 
Dr. Jong cares passionately about the people in rural and remote areas and has been creative with facing challenging health-care needs with the aid of telemedicine and other resources. To help meet the demands of rural and northern practice, NorFam offers extra training in specialist services such as surgery, obstetrics, emergency medicine, intensive care and medical evacuation. The effect on the community, especially the Aboriginal community, of improved medical care has been significant.
"Infant mortality has come down tremendously through better pre-natal care and better care of newborns," said Dr. Jong. "We are now trying to get into community population health research and are looking towards eradicating tuberculosis. Our next challenge is diabetes — the rate among the Aboriginal population is high and it is increasing. It’s a genetic and a lifestyle issue."
Dr. Jong said the work at Goose Bay is challenging and he finds it encouraging to see how things have improved since he first moved to the community. "At one time the hospital was full of admissions from infectious diseases and suicides. There is still a major problem with suicides but we cannot deal with everything at once." He said the next step is to conduct applied and population health research.
As a teacher, a trusted physician and a community leader, Dr. Jong has helped improve the lives of many people, especially those in remote areas. He has been recognized by his peers, receiving the Newfoundland and Labrador Family Physician of the Year in 2005 and serving the following two years as president of the Society of Rural Physician of Canada.