Canadian Doctors Find Adventure in BC – “You Can Do Everything Out Here.”

Canadian Doctors Find Adventure in BC – “You Can Do Everything Out Here.”

April 04, 2016

Dr. Damon Tedford is a fan of tales of survivalists and self-sufficient men of the woods. So when adventure called, he answered. When his locum emergency physician position at Surrey Memorial Hospital ended in October 2014, Dr. Tedford left for Alaska to train and later participate in the Yukon Quest: a 1,600 km dogsled race.

For 11 days he and his team of 14 dogs braved the elements and tested the limits of endurance. The dogs ran the equivalent of four marathons per day in frigid temperatures to make it from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. Twenty-six other mushers participated in the race, and Dr. Tedford, 38, was named Rookie of the Year.

Dr. Tedford grew up almost as far from Whitehorse as a Canadian can get: in Charlottetown, PEI. In his late teens he joined the Canadian Armed Forces, earning an undergraduate degree from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. He served as an officer with the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, serving on tours of duty in Bosnia and Afghanistan before leaving the Armed Forces to study medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

For the Adventure

The tempo of emergency medicine drew Dr. Tedford to the specialty. The acute nature of the patient’s need means that “sometimes you can actually fix the problem and see the outcomes of your interventions firsthand,” he said. He completed his residency at the University of Saskatchewan in 2013.

Dr. Tedford and his partner, Dr. Lauren Kimball, moved to British Columbia in early 2014. They chose BC because of “the skiing, the snow, the mountains – all of the adventure pieces, really.”

Health Match BC helped make the transition between provinces easy, Dr. Tedford said. He appreciated how Health Match BC helped with the paperwork and assisted with job opportunities: “They can help find the communities that will suit your lifestyle needs.”

Dr. Kimball now practises family medicine in Vancouver. It was thanks to Dr. Kimball that Dr. Tedford became interested in mushing. She gave him a Christmas present of a short dogsled trek in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, and Dr. Tedford was hooked. 

ER Training

Dr. Tedford’s medical training was useful during the race, helping him to take care of the dogs’ medical and nutritional needs. As an emergency physician he was also used to little sleep. The endurance needed for the race came from his time with the Armed Forces. Military training exercises, he said, taught him how to endure hardship: “Although it was demanding at the time, it built up your confidence. It was also incredibly empowering.”

A great motivator was the devotion of the 14 sled dogs on his team, Dr. Tedford said. “You appreciate how hard they are working for you,” he shared. “You could steer these dogs through literally anything.”

There are no immediate plans for more dogsled adventures. Dr. Tedford is back at Surrey Memorial Hospital, with the aim to become a full-time staff member. Free time is spent exploring his new home of BC through outdoor pursuits such as mountaineering, back-country skiing and hiking the West Coast trail. “You can sail too,” he added. “You can do everything here.”

The only things missing are the dogs. They stayed in Sterling, Alaska. Dr. Tedford said he wishes he could have brought at least one back to BC, but added: “I live in a condo. I could probably get them out and be active enough, but they like to be with other sled dogs. I think about them often.”