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Making Good in Canada
Chapter XVIII - Openings for the Professions

Are the professions overcrowded? This is a favourite theme for discussion in these islands, ranking almost in popularity with the eternal question, “What shall we do with our boys?” Undoubtedly here many professional occupations are overcrowded, and yet the colleges and training schools continue to pour out ever-increasing streams to flood the overburdened market, rendering the struggle for existence keener and keener.

It would be a good thing, both for the professions and the welfare of the Dominion, if this current could be diverted, so as to supply it with the surplus volume at any rate. Canada maintains a number of excellent training-schools and colleges, it is true, but the amazing rapidity with which the country is developing and becoming populated is quite outdistancing the yield of these establishments. Another factor is responsible for the dearth of professional men in the Far West. Upon emergence into the world of business the more energetic recognize that some time must elapse in building up a remunerative practice. They have little or no inclination to leave the busy cities, and they see that commerce is more promising than the special field in which they have been trained. Accordingly, one sees doctors, surgeons, dentists, and other professional men forsaking their first love for those spheres in which there is a more sporting chance of getting rich quickly, because, after all, the amassing of dollars is the guiding star of every Canadian’s existence, and the shorter the period in which this end may be consummated the better. On the other hand, the wheels of fortune grind slowly towards the position of a millionaire in professional pursuits.

If one were to take a census of the number of doctors practising among the new towns in the West, the resultant figures would be startling. Seeing that new communities are being established on the average of one per day, and that the number of persons settling down in each spot ranges from 100 upwards, it will be realised that at least 300 chances for a doctor to make good are presented every year. Yet probably less than 50 per cent, of these opportunities are taken up.

The prospect of settling down among 100 people and building up a flourishing practice certainly does not appear very rosy. But then it must be remembered that the town is only a pivot around which turns a vast area of surrounding country, possibly of twenty or thirty miles radius and rapidly becoming settled. Taking the average of one family to every 160 acres or quarter-section, it will be seen that a township—not a town, but the quadrilateral area into which the country is divided by the survey—when fully settled, may be taken to be populated by 144 families. Assuming the average family to number six souls, this- gives a total of 864 people, which, added to the population of the town, may easily represent 1,000 people, at a modest computation, available for a doctor’s ministrations. Then it must be borne in mind that the country is not standing still, so that the medico’s practice is increasing every year.

In the Far West the call for medical attention is very acute, and the doctor who establishes himself in a community in its earliest days has a very attractive chance. In the moulding stages accidents are very frequent, and it must be admitted that the way in which the pioneers by force of circumstances controvert fatalities from the most serious mishaps is astonishing. Here and there a doctor may be found entrenched, and in every instance I have found that the physician was contented with bin lot, that his practice was steadily and surely improving with every succeeding year, accompanied by a coincident improvement in his financial status. But one must be in on the ground-floor, to be firmly established by the time the town takes up its position in the world’s affairs.

When I arrived at Fort George, the town was bustling along as busily as some 300 souls could make it by toiling for nearly sixteen hours a day. Minor accidents were of frequent occurrence, and yet there was not a doctor within 200 miles. One could not buy a box of ointment, pills, a bottle of liniment or carbolic—in fact, no therapeutics whatever within double that distance. There was not a pharmacy in the place, though one was being built, and none of the shops stocked drugs or other medicaments of any description.

On all sides there were evidences that a doctor was in urgent request. One man had tried conclusions with an axe against his leg, and had suffered severely in the ordeal. Another had had a tumble while running up a shack, and had given his shoulder a nasty jolt. A third had strained his back badly while carrying a heavy load, and so on. Yet one and all pulled through somehow or other, thanks to the rough treatment of their unskilled comrades and a slice of luck, but professional attention would have brought restoration to health in a third of the time, and with far less excruciating agony.

There were two cases in particular which demanded expert attention. One of the engineering staff on a steamboat which ran between the town and Soda Creek had been jammed among the machinery, and his thigh had been badly bruised. He took very little notice of the mishap, and continued to hobble about, giving the affected part frequent massage with engine oil to secure some relief. But he got worse, and at last was unable to move. The affected part had swollen, and the pain was racking the man to pieces. His companions were baffled; they had never encountered such an accident before. The man was laid up as comfortably as possible under the circumstances. Then the patient worried his “pards” still further by becoming delirious. They desired to remove him to Soda Creek by the next steamboat, but it was felt that he would never last the journey.

As luck would have it, there was a Harvard student in the town. He had taken his American degrees in medicine, but had never practised, being one of those who had decided to take the chances of commerce in preference to professional duties. His assistance was enlisted. Legally, be was debarred from practising, as he had not obtained the requisite qualifications in. the Dominion, but be decided to extend what aid he could. Diagnosis served to convince him readily that mortification had set in, and was so far advanced that the chances of the patient’s recovery were very slender. The situation was desperate. The doctor was quite unequipped for the treatment that was necessary ; he could not obtain a single requisition in the town. However, he set to work. His penknife, razor, a grindstone, and ample supplies of boiling water, with strips of rag of all sorts and conditions obtained from odd corners, were pressed into service, the mortified part was cut away, and the bad blood drawn off. It was a crude operation, and septic poisoning was quite anticipated by the doctor. Ho did not fail to realize the serious condition of the patient and his own position. He never left the sufferer for more than half an hour during the succeeding three days, bathing, bandaging, and nursing him most sedulously. In his work he was assisted by the steel-like constitution of the sufferer, and a week’s careful attention sufficed to relieve him to such an extent that he vas able to be carried down the river to Quesnel, where he was handed over to qualified skilled attention. The surgical treatment meted out, though essentially primitive, served to save the man’s life, but the Harvard graduate admitted to mo that it was the toughest and most anxious week that he ever had experienced, bearing in mind his own peculiar predicament.

Scarcely had he tended this critical case, when he was ran to earth by another fellow-townsman, whose wife had had the misfortune to pierce her ear with a hat-pin, the point of which had broken off and was buried in the wound. She was prostrated with pain. The graduate hurried off to the patient. Denied all surgical instruments and other facilities, he did the best he could for the woman under the circumstances, bathing the wound with boiling water, and endeavouring to probe it with his sterilized pocket-knife. He patched up tho patient sufficiently to enable her to travel down the river on the morrow, but fortunately the incoming boat had a doctor on board who was travelling up-country, partly on pleasure bent, but principally to investigate a tract of land which he had purchased. As he had a small emergency outfit with him, he was able to alleviate the sufferer sufficiently to render the tedious journey southwards unnecessary.

I have met several young physicians among these very new towns, and, although they confess that in the earliest days patients are somewhat few and far between, and one has to patrol a vast territory to keep things going, still the clock soon moves round sufficiently to improve the situation from the financial point of view. On the whole, the doctor’s time is pretty well occupied. and he has to be prepared to embark upon some trying and arduous jaunts at a moment’s notice. Turning out of bed ;n the middle of the night to answer a call from a point thirty or more miles away, with the thermometer well down below freezing, with a blizzard raging, and a yelping dog-train as the only vehicle of transport, does not seem alluring, but one soon gets accustomed to these conditions. Certainly the journey is well paid. On the average, the doctor receives 4s. a mile, both out and home, for the journey, on the top of which comes the fee for his attention to the patient. When the call 's as many as eighty miles away, as was the case with one doctor I met, where the travelling fees alone represented a sum exceeding £30, medical attention may be considered to be an impossible luxury from the settler's point of view. Yet the average settler, by thrift and industry, soon succeeds in piling up a small nest-egg, and apparently does not begrudge a heavy payment to a doctor for attention to a sick member of his family.

A young physician, fresh from the medical college, who decides to try h5s luck under such conditions, and free from competitive interests, as a rule, can look forward to a commencing annual income of about £160. As the district grows and the surrounding country becomes more and more thickly populated, with an increasing ratio of illness, the doctor’s income becomes automatically augmented, so that within a few years a comfortable £500 or £700 per annum may be anticipated. Such an income in the bush is equal to thrice this sum in the average city. The doctor is not called upon to maintain any social position. The average medical man in the Canadian West might easily be taken for an English farmer; there is very little difference externally. Expenditure is practically nominal, because rent is cheap and taxes are low. There is the additional attraction of being able to improve the shining hour by astute investments in land. One doctor whom I met, who had spent ten years in a small frontier town, ministering to the ailments of four or five hundred scattered families, confessed that ho had selected such a field for his activities as a vehicle for land-in vestment. Although his annual professional income has approaching the four figures, on more than one occasion he had m&de more than the equivalent of five years’ medical work from a single land-deal. His era farm comprised a section for which, with its improvements, he had received many tempting offers.

But, apart from this side inducement a bush practice has greater far-reaching effects. It is probably the best field into which the young doctor raw from college can be pitched. He is thrown absolutely upon his own resources and skill, and the cases with which he comes into contact at times would make the head of a specialist feel inclined to split. But the bush doctor has no opportunity to call in a colleague for consultation. It is up to him to bring the patient through the ailment with which he is afflicted. The more teasing the case, the greater becomes his fame, if he succeeds in keeping the patient upon the right side of the “Great Divide" while, even if he is cheated in his contest, and the sufferer slips through his fingers, despite the most careful and diligent attention, he does not suffer. On the ether hand the disciple who is apt to be careless and indifferent, or fails to show the requisite degree of sympathetic interest in a case, meets his Waterloo at once, and is boycotted out of the limits of the community.

The accidents of the bush, as well as the maladies are peculiar, and invariably serious. One man was handling the plough on the railway grade when something went wrong, and before he realized what was the matter his thigh had been almost torn out. The wound was terrible, and the doctor admitted to me that he had never had a moment’s immunity from anxiety until that man was out of the primitive hospital. Another case concerned a settler who, climbing over a dead tree which obstructed his path while clearing his land, slipped and fell upon a snag—the short, bayonet-like point of a dead branch. The limb penetrated his abdomen, and was about as bad an instance of snagging as one could wish to see, because, in addition to piercing the body, the stump, in the men’s struggles, snapped off, leaving a good two inches of wood embedded in the wound. As the wood was dead and crumbled up under the investigating movements of the surgeon’s probe, the removal of every trace of the foreign substance was a heart-breaking task, and for two or three weeks the patient hovered between life and death. But the unremitting attention of the physician prevented that remorseless enemy of surgery, septic poisoning, supervening, as well as other complications, and the settler was able to regain his shack.

The crude sanitary ideas adopted in the bush are liable to precipitate the whole gamut of complaints arising from lack of attention to hygiene. Typhoid fever is a scourge for which the physician ever is on the alert. Now and again this terrible disease will get a start, and is only prevented from exacting a heavy toll by indefatigable medical efforts. Occasionally the professional man himself is overwhelmed in his zeal by his relentless foe. One young doctor, with whom I spent a couple of days, and who was regarded as extremely clever and with a brilliant career before him, was carried off about a month after we parted, by this malady, in his untiring attempt to save the community among whom he was living from being ravaged by an outbreak of this virulent scourge.

Another malady breaks out with fearful virulence in the late autumn. For the most part, it is confined to the army of mineral prospectors. When they straggle into the frontier town after weeks of laborious scratching upon the mountain slopes and among the tumbling creeks, they invariably celebrate the event by hugging the bar of the saloon, enjoying a “cracker-jack of a bust-up,” and completing the orgy by becoming prostrated from the effects of excessive indulgence in alcohol. Then the doctor gets busy for a few days holding the maniacal patients in check.

The wilderness is full of surprises, and one of the most startling of these is the magnificent hospital at Hazelton. To-day, owing to the railway having invaded the country, this establishment does not appear so remarkable, but five years ago it was certainly an odd link between civilization and the unknown, because the nearest city, Vancouver, was about 700 miles away. The building is in an idyllic situation, on a flat table land under the shadow of the precipitous flanks of Boule Mountain. It is a full-fledged institution, able to tend the sufferings of anyone and any description of case. It was founded and is maintained by a Mission, in collaboration with other organizations of a similar character and private enterprise, while it serves the ends of both the white and red population indiscriminately.

Another professional man who is becoming more and more in demand is the veterinary surgeon. Cattle are indispensable to the settler, and, although he tends them with every care, accidents will happen, and mysterious diseases which baffle the owner will break out. Seeing that the stock is valuable for the most part, it is not surprising to learn that the settler is quite as ready to pay heavily for attention to his charges as to members of his family, when stricken down with illness.

The openings for veterinary surgery will become greater and greater as diversified farming becomes practised upon a more extensive scale than is the case at present. Although on the prairies animal traction is being superseded by mechanical power, still, there are vast stretches of country now being developed where the motor vehicle will experience an uphill fight for supremacy, owing to the adverse physical conditions of the country. Sheep-farming is coming more into vogue, while swine and cattle are occupying more and more attention in the West owing to the heavy and increasing demand for dairy products, and supplies of raw material for the canning factories.

The veterinary surgeon, like his colleague the medical practitioner, must be prepared to wander far and wide in support of his practice. In summer two or three sturdy horses are an excellent investment, and provide the only means of travel—one as saddle horse, and the other, possibly, carrying a small equipment for the professional man over a night and day or two in the bush. Fees are on a liberal scale, while travelling expenses are assessed from custom, upon a similar and highly satisfactory basis.

As the new towns develop and emerge from the timber-shack chrysalis stage into the permanent masonry form, the numerous handmaids of civilization in the form of telephones, electric light and power, and tramways, inevitably fellow, for the Western Canadian town is nothing if not up to-date. Such developments offer opportunities to the electrical engineer, as well as being a mine of valuable experience, while other branches of civil engineering offer tempting chances to the right men for the jobs. Petrol and steam traction is yet in its infancy, but the outlook is particularly healthy for these professional pursuits in the near future, and mechanical engineers expert in these respective branches of their craft can make good under the most promising conditions.

The young man just cut of his apprenticeship is the most in demand, and the British engineer, from the varied and thorough character of his training, which invariably includes a period of hard gruelling in the practical shop, is preferred to the product of the American technical institution, -which has proved sadly wanting during the pant few years. It has been found that there is a vast difference between the laboratory, with all its complete plant, and textbook guidance of what to do if such-and-such happens, and the open field, where a man is thrown upon his own resources and ingenuity to extricate himself from tight corners and teasing problems; where things never go &s they ought to according to the textbook. The European school has proved its superiority, and that is the reason why to-day the titan from the prosaic Old World picks up the plums of his profession.

What makes appeal to the British engineer is that he is able to give evidence in a tangible form that confidence in his skill and judgment is not misplaced. He is not tied hand and foot by conventionality: individuality is given free rein. If the effort pans out well, it meets with its own reward. If the experiment turns out a failure—well, the young man had better take the next train out, and put as many miles between himself and the locality where ho has come a cropper in as short a period as he can.

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