By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Some patients at the Castor Medical Clinic may have been treated by a gold-medal winner in November and December.
Gold-medal Olympic hockey player turned med student Hayley Wickenheiser was in Castor during part of November and December training in rural medicine under Dr. Noelle O’Riordan.
“I wanted to go into medicine since I was a kid,” said Wickenheiser.
“To go from being an expert in one field to a rookie in another is kind of a nice change. It’s fun having the rookie mentality again.”
Wickenheiser is in the middle of her final year of medical school at the University of Calgary and is currently working through several practical rotations at hospitals across the province.
“I’ve been fortunate that all through my training I’ve worked with some pretty excellent doctors, and it’s no different coming out to Castor,” said Wickenheiser.
“It was a great experience. I grew up in a small town, and rural is something that has always interested me.”
Wickenheiser managed to get her placement thanks to one of her University of Calgary professors who knew that Dr. O’Riordan was interested in teaching, and she considers working with Dr. O’Riordan to be a high point of her time in Castor.
“We had plenty of laughs through the whole process, through the month. Just the way she teaches medicine, it was a really nice experience,” said Wickenheiser, before continuing, “The highlight of working with Dr. O’Riordan was she had no idea who I was, and has no idea about hockey, so it was fantastic.”
With school winding down, Wickenheiser is done with her in class portion of her training. Before she finishes up May, she still has rotations in obstetrics, pediatrics, and surgery to finish, with exams taking place after each.
Once those are done, she will go on to write her final licencing exam which will get her entry to a Canada-wide residency program, though she will try to limit placements into Calgary or Toronto.
“I’ll only choose Calgary or Toronto, likely,” said Wickenheiser.
“Just because of my life, working with the (Toronto Maple) Leafs, and I live in Calgary. I’m most likely going into family or emergency medicine at this point.”
What’s her biggest take away from her time in Castor?
“If it walks like a duck, and if it talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” said Wickenheiser.
“It’s like we learned in school, common things are common. Just the amount of repetition you (see) in certain diseases. You see lots of diabetes, a lot of hypertension, a lot of renal failure. You get really good at starting to diagnose those conditions when you see them.”
Despite having retired from the national hockey scene, Wickenheiser still has ties to the hockey world.
“I retired from the national team and started med school right away. Then the Leafs called me,” said Wickenheiser.
When she’s not working on her medical studies, Wickenheiser can be found on the ice in Toronto in her role as the assistant director for player development.
In this role, Wickenheiser works with the players on the Leafs, as well as in the minor league teams such as the Toronto Marlies. She also does some work with junior prospects in the west as well.
“It’s been a lot of Zoom meetings lately,” said Wickenheiser.
“I hope to be back in the facility by mid-December.”
Meanwhile, Wickenheiser is appreciative of her time in the community.
“Thank you to everyone in the community. I stayed in an amazing place. It was just a really comfortable place to come, and it made it easy to come to a small town with a place like that,” said Wickenheiser.
“The front office staff of the hospital were so energetic and happy every day, I really appreciated the energy there, and the positivity.”
However, despite the positivity, Wickenheiser did have a warning for the community about the ongoing pandemic.
“We’re a little more protected in rural Canada from COVID-19, but we’re not immune to it. Please stay vigilant, and please respect the rules, because sadly to say, COVID is coming, I think, to Castor at some point in time,” said Wickenheiser.
“Protecting yourself protects your neighbours and the community, and that’s really important. If there was an outbreak at the hospital, it doesn’t have the capacity to handle it, so it would put people in a very dangerous position. Please be smart, and please be safe.”