Big city practice vs. small town clinic. For Dr. Ana Maria Oelschig, there’s no two ways about it.

“If you build it, they will come,” says Dr. Ana Maria Oelschig, who made her way from South Africa to Okotoks, Alberta, to start her very own practice from the ground up.

Dr. Ana Maria Oelschig got into medical school in South Africa because it was something that was expected of her. In her family and community, “if you’re smart, you go do something smart. You kind of go in the direction your aptitude test tells you to go.”

And so, Ana Maria fell into medicine, and admits that she only fell in love with it once she starting seeing patients.

“I don’t really know how it all worked out. You apply to universities and you get into medicine. And thank god I did because it absolutely was what I was intended to do. When I finally finished my eight years of study and actually started seeing people, I realized that this is what I need to be doing.”

Now, 25 years later, Dr. Ana Maria is a General Practitioner at Mokala Medical in Okotoks, and works tirelessly as the medical director at the Foothills Country Hospice, where she provides palliative care.

“I work full time as a GP so I do hospice before clinic, during clinic, after clinic, weekends. I call it my full-time hobby. I do whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done.”

Why Okotoks? Her journey to rural Alberta is actually quite remarkable. After getting her degree in South Africa in 1994, she travelled the world and worked in many different practices, until she found what she was looking for.

“I went to New Zealand, Australia, back to South Africa, then up to Canada where I worked in Slave Lake, Alberta for three years. Then I moved to Calgary for a couple years, and that’s when I figured the only way to do it right was to open my own clinic. And that’s what brought me to Okotoks.”

The Mokala Medical practice started because Ana Maria wasn’t happy with some of the practices she had been working in. “It was too fast-paced, a little too impersonal. I wanted to sit down and chat, and get to know my patients and their families.”

She and her husband met with a developer, they found a building and built the clinic from the ground up. “At first it was just me, with enough space for six or so docs. So, we went with the principle that if you build it, they will come.”

The clinic, which uses a TELUS EMR, now has a counselor, a denturist, a dentist, a therapist, and a pharmacy next door. “We are so fortunate. It’s like a little hub.”

While Ana Maria loves what she does and – like most doctors – doesn’t mind being busy all the time, she admits that the stress sometimes gets to her.

“When you’re long enough in practice, every patient has a story and you feel responsible. And when things get ugly, I tend to bring that home a lot. I worry. When people with mental health issues are in crisis, that tends to be a big stress for me. It’s a long haul to get those people better and I worry about them very much.”

She says that some days are harder and more challenging than others. “But then you have one nice patient who comes in the door and asks ‘How are you?’ and it’s like ‘Wow, cool, nice!’ and that changes everything and you can go on again for weeks.”

Thank you, Dr. Ana Maria, for the amazing work you do each and every day.

Dr. Ana Maria Oelshig is a TELUS Health EMR user

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