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Yellowknife doctor recognized with Rural Service Award

Dr. Andrew Kotaska, head of the NWT Medical Association, voices concerns about harmful social distancing practices for NWT residents.

Dr. Andrew Kotaska has been recognized for his years of service to the North.

The Yellowknife physician, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, received a Rural Service Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada at an award dinner and banquet held April 5 in Halifax, NS.

“It feels nice,” he said. “I kind of naturally am drawn to rural practice.”

Born and raised on the West Coast, Kotaska became a family doctor in 1994. He practiced medicine in Smithers B.C. for about seven years before deciding to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. He moved to Yellowknife in 2006.

As one of only three obstetrics and gynecology physicians in the NWT, Kotaska enjoys great responsibility and autonomy.

His work is very important to the people living in the remote fly-in communities above the Arctic Circle, many of whom do not have ready access to medical care.

According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, only 45 per cent of NWT residents have regular access to a doctor, nurse or medical specialist. At 25 per cent, Nunavut was the only province or territory with less access. The national average was 83 per cent.

“As a specialist you get to do outreach clinics to places like Inuvik, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven in Nunavut,” said Kotaska. “You get to see a bunch of the North to avoid patients travelling to Yellowknife, which is fun and unique.”

Over the years Kotaska has found great satisfaction in the challenges he's faced practising medicine in remote communities.

“When you're in a rural place ... you have to be flexible and creative with both diagnosis and treatment and you get faced with a large spectrum of problems that if you were in a city you'd be sent to a specialist,” he said. “Sometimes you're using specialists from afar over the phone and treating patients in their hometowns to minimize travel. It's very satisfying medicine and patients are appreciative of the efforts you put in.”

Kotaska also praised the network of physicians, nurses, obstetricians and midwives who serve the North and work together with a collegiality that's hard to find in large city centres, he said.

Kotaska was also awarded a Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Society of Canada (SOGC) regional award in March for his ongoing work publishing papers and providing curriculum for continuing education with the organization.

“One of the challenges of being in the North is being for away from education centres,” he said. “But the SOGC and the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto have all given me academic homes down south to participate in the evolution of the practice.”