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Doctor drawn back to hometown

Smithers-raised Dr. Neithammer sees returning med students as key to recruitment.
Kate Niethammer plays with her son. Contributed photo

Smithers newest doctor is an old friend.

Doctor Kate Niethammer, who grew up in Smithers, returned to town in June to work as a family doctor after going to medical school in Galway, Ireland and completing residency in the rural Okanagan program in Kelowna.

“There’s a lot of diversity in what a family doctor does in a small community and so Smithers was [my] top choice to live and work,” Neithammer said.

Niethammer was in Ireland for five years before returning to B.C. to do her residency. As a part of her training she worked in Nanaimo, Vanderhoof, Queen Charlotte and Kelowna.

Niethammer was inspired to become a doctor after watching an Australian TV show where doctors were flown to different locations to help the sick and needy.

“I’ve always liked the aspect of helping people and doing stuff for others,” Niethammer said. “As a doctor you get to do that and get to know people and build a relationship.”

Before becoming a doctor Niethammer worked as a tree planter for several years.

The doctor said she enjoyed the monotony of the work and actually met her husband there.

“It was peaceful working,” Niethammer said. “But you also live in a tent in the middle of nowhere for three months and I did not like that aspect as much.”

Niethammer stopped tree planting after she became pregnant with her first child.

On an average day Niethammer said she sees all sorts of patients with different ailments.

“One of the draws to [being in a rural area] to me is the variety,” Niethammer said. “That’s what I like, you don’t know what’s going to walk in the door.”

Neithammer believes the key to attracting more doctors to rural areas is to try to get people from those areas to return to them like she did instead of seeking candidates from cities.

“[Okanagan program] focuses on northern students … to support them to foster a desire to come back to the North,” Niethammer said. “I think that’s really going to be what causes people to come back.”

Niethammer practices at Central Square Medical Clinic.