Dr. Rebecca Kolbenson has travelled across North America to practice medicine, but now she is settled in Golden and not going anywhere for a while.
“I bought this practice so I’m committed [to Golden],” she said.
As the daughter of an optometrist (her father continues to practice in Tisdale, Sask., where Kolbenson grew up, and occasionally helps out in Golden when he is available) it is no surprise that Dr. Kolbenson found her way into this field. She got her first degree from the University of Saskatchewan before she eventually got her doctorate from the University of Waterloo.
During the course of her studies at UW, she spent six months in Oklahoma and three weeks in Jamaica as a part of her training. According to Dr. Kolbenson, both places allowed her to broaden her horizons and get a lot of great, hands-on experience. In Oklahoma she was placed at a hospital for war veterans, mostly from Afghanistan, and in Jamaica she saw 5,000 patients in just three weeks, including many that had never seen a doctor before.
“We did eye exams and would work for 10 hours straight, and [the people] would bring us gifts because they were so thankful that we came [there]. It was a big deal for them.”
As a young woman, Dr. Kolbenson has faced her fair share of challenges in order to get to where she is today. New patients occasionally express their surprise at her gender, but even more so at her age.
“Once [the patients] talk to me, and they realize that I know what I’m talking about, they lose that [surprise] right away,” she said.
When she graduated, Dr. Kolbenson knew that she wanted to own a practice in a small town, because she saw first hand in Tisdale what it can mean to a community.
“I know how important it is to find healthcare professionals in a small town, and I know how hard it is to find them, so I knew that I wanted to go to a small town and bring those resources somewhere else.”
Already, Dr. Kolbenson has invested in a new piece of technology that could have a very positive impact on the people of Golden, an OCT scan that will allow her to check for glaucoma and macular degeneration. An OCT scan is a non-invasive imaging test that allows doctors to look at cross-sectional layers of the retina.
Glaucoma is especially hard to detect as it affects a patient’s peripheral vision, something not many people notice immediately. The OCT scan can predict whether a patient will get glaucoma at any point in the next 10 years, which is very important for a disease where early detection and treatment is essential to prevent severe vision loss or blindness.
Age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss and blindness amongst seniors, affects a person’s central vision and unless it is caught early, it can be very difficult to treat. Currently, patients in Golden requiring an OCT scan have to travel to Calgary or Cranbrook, which involves a lengthy drive and often a night in a hotel just to get checked. Dr. Kolbenson is hoping to have the scan in Golden sometime this fall.
Dr. Kolbenson has given her staff more responsibility and emphasized their involvement in patient care since taking over. She admits the first few months have had a learning curve to them, but says that things have been getting easier lately. She has also been very pleased with how the staff has handled the changes.
“The staff have been great. I am really lucky to have them,” she said.