Improving healthcare by building relationships

A $2.7 million commitment from The Sobey Foundation will enhance Healthy Pictou County’s ability to entice healthcare providers to put down roots.

Dr. Oseme Eriakha didn’t know much about Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Shore region before moving his family here back in 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. But when the physician took in the vast vistas of the beautiful countryside, the reddish tinge of the soil caught his eye. “I'm originally from a place that has red soil, so that was a good sign. And then over time, integrating into society, meeting lovely people, seeing the opportunity and the beauty that is here, it just became a place to call home,” says Dr. Eriakha.

Now, four years later, Dr. Eriakha has a thriving family practice at Westside Health Centre in New Glasgow, enjoys collegiality amongst his colleagues, his wife works remotely, and his two young boys have settled in nicely. They are so comfortable here that during a recent trip to a large city, Dr. Eriakha’s sons were unsettled by the lack of trees and nature. “In three days' time, they were saying they wanted to go home. That's the level of tranquility that this place has and this kind of community passes to the young generation who are environmentally conscious,” says Dr. Eriakha. 

Dr. Oseme Eriakha, right, and Dr. Manal Elmiladi are both family physicians at the Westside Health Centre in New Glasgow. “I'm in a great practice group, I have lovely patients, and good collegiality with my colleagues. Everything fits in perfectly for me,” says Dr. Eriakha.

That level of attachment to the region is what will help attract and retain healthcare providers, enticing them to put down roots, and it’s precisely the work that Citizens for a Healthy Pictou County seeks to do every day. The related organization, Healthy Pictou County, was established in 2018 and is a physician-led, community-based attraction and retention organization with a primary focus on physicians, and a secondary focus on other allied health professionals. The organization also works to develop relationships with medical students who have ties to the region.   

A new funding partnership with The Sobey Foundation – $2,755,000 over the next five years – will enable the organization to contribute to building a strong and vibrant healthcare system that will enhance the quality of life for residents.

“We're not in the recruitment business, we're in the business of selling our community to the folks that the provincial recruiters bring in,” says Murray Hill, chair of Citizens for a Healthy Pictou County, the operational arm of Healthy Pictou County.

Healthy Pictou County takes a holistic approach to supporting and retaining medical staff, knowing that a decision to leave rural practice or stay and put down roots is nuanced. It’s not as simple as writing a cheque to a doctor in hopes that they will stay long term, says Murray, who was chair of the Pictou County Health Authority for 12 years. “We knew that if we were going to be effective, that we needed to set it up on a relationship basis rather than a transactional basis.”


“The partnership with The Sobey Foundation is validating and encouraging, and shows a genuine interest in what the organization does,” says Nicole LeBlanc, project manager for Healthy Pictou County. “As a not-for-profit, we're very mindful of our spending. So for someone to come in and say think big, you get excited by that so you think big. And then we would sit with The Foundation and refine the ideas and they would say that's great, let's go bigger. It’s a testament that says let's do more and let's do more together.” 

Funding from The Sobey Foundation will go towards adding to the Healthy Pictou County team, enhancing retention efforts, providing professional development opportunities, enhancing locum support, building relationships with medical students who have ties to the region, and setting up a patient navigation system to support Pictou County residents who are without a primary healthcare provider.

We would sit with The Sobey Foundation and refine the ideas and they would say that's great, let's go bigger. It’s a testament that says let's do more and let's do more together.

Nicole LeBlanc

Healthy Pictou County project manager

Nicole, who grew up in Pictou County and moved back with her partner a few years ago, is excited by the opportunities and changes that the partnership with The Sobey Foundation will provide for the entire community – family, friends and neighbours. “This will have a generational, lasting impact,” says Nicole, who is proud to be a part of it. 

The work of Healthy Pictou County includes showing visiting physicians the region, including professional facilities, family activities, urban amenities and, of course, access to nature. It’s during these tours that visitors get a taste of the authentic friendliness of the area. “We will drive by someone on the road who waves to us and the doctor will ask who that was. And I’ll tell them the truth - I have absolutely no idea,” laughs Nicole. 

Pictou County offers a unique blend of rural and urban. There’s a Starbucks, but there’s also a local coffee shop where neighbours gather; there are fast-food chains but there’s also family-owned restaurants that have been in the community for years. 

“You don't lose what's great about a big city, and you also don’t lose what’s great about being in a rural community,” says Dr. Eriakha of life in Pictou County. “It’s well balanced. It fits everyone. Anyone who's starting life, anyone who's at the later stage in life, and anyone who is innovative and wants to see the world from a quiet environment.”

One of the best selling points is accessibility – the ease with which people can get to work, to play, to the local Sobeys for groceries, says Nicole. “We have people who have come from places where the commute is three hours long. Here, we talk about your commute being a couple songs on your playlist.” 


Bahati Maganjo loves the relaxed atmosphere and feeling of calm she and her family have found in Pictou County since arriving in 2021. Originally from Rwanda, she spent years as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya before coming to Canada. “Nairobi is wild, it’s chaotic. It's the extreme end of what we have in Pictou County. Here it’s peaceful, serene, a lot of green, a lot of nature. It's quiet and it's slow in a good way. This is definitely a welcome change.”

Bahati Maganjo enjoys some downtime with her family. A registered nurse who works in the medical surgical unit of the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, says the professional community in the region is robust and diverse. “There are opportunities for growth; to learn and to integrate professionally.”

When Bahati, a registered nurse, and her husband arrived, she was expecting their first child. Now on maternity leave with their second child, Bahati cherishes the way of life in Pictou County. “This is just a perfect place to have kids. It allows you to slow down and make sure you are balancing your work life and family life. You have time for the little things.”

But it’s not just the beauty and the relaxed pace that attracts those in the healthcare field, it’s also the professional atmosphere. The diverse and robust workforce means there’s opportunities to grow, to integrate, and to learn from each other, says Bahati, who works in the medical surgical unit of the Aberdeen Hospital. And the collegial atmosphere means everyone from the cleaners to the top surgeons have an equally important role to play. “You can make friendships across those gaps without feeling like someone is superior to the other.”

The Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, the regional acute care facility serving residents of Pictou County, offers primary and secondary services through inpatient, outpatient and community-based services and programs.

That combination of professional opportunities, a friendly atmosphere, and a balanced lifestyle is exactly what Josh McKenna will be looking for when he is ready to start his medical career. The first-year medical student at Dalhousie University in Halifax was born and raised in New Glasgow, where his grandfather and great-grandfather were both pharmacists. “Healthcare was always something that I had considered growing up. It’s an opportunity for me to be connected to a community.”

Just starting his schooling, Josh is considering family medicine in a rural setting, although it’s too early to commit. “As I get older, I'm thinking more about my family values and about places to raise a family. I've done the whole city thing myself. I've lived in Toronto and I've travelled around and I've come to know myself a bit better, and I like the idea of living somewhere that has a gentler way of life.”

Josh doesn’t know for sure where he will want to start building his career when the time comes, but knows that those who do choose Pictou County will be fortunate. “Anyone who finds themselves practicing anywhere in northern Nova Scotia, will have a tremendous opportunity to work with a really tight and connected community in a really beautiful part of the province.”


Dr. Eriakha never pictured himself leaving Nigeria but when his first son came along, all that changed. “We were living in Lagos. The thought of raising a child in that environment was scary. There is no quality of life.”

Now, he says, he is fortunate to live here, and he appreciates that his wife and their sons are surrounded by people who care about them. Just this past winter, after a particularly nasty snowstorm, a neighbour called and was concerned about how Dr. Eriakha would get to work in those conditions. “That meant so much. That tells you about the humanity that still exists in this place.”

There’s a feeling of camaraderie here, and a sense that the doctors’ work is having an impact. “One of the most important things I like is that you have a very good group of physicians that have a kindred spirit of working together to care for the population of Pictou County,” says Dr. Eriakha. “Setting up a rural practice can be one of the most fulfilling things a family doctor or general practitioner can hope to achieve.”

Dr. Eriakha has become one of the region’s most ardent supporters and shares his story wherever he goes. Just recently he was in the U.S. telling a friend about Pictou County and the friend asked if he was being paid to do so, given the glowing descriptions that Dr. Eriakha was sharing. “I said ‘No, this is the truth. This is the reality of my life.’ I've been to many places in the world and what we have in Pictou County is something to acknowledge, to cherish, and then to sell to others.”

Fast Facts

Healthy Pictou County is a grassroots physician-led effort focused on the attraction and retention of healthcare professionals and students.

Healthy Pictou County’s operational body is the Citizens for a Healthy Pictou County who have fundraised and provided community leadership for a variety of significant projects including the redevelopment of the Emergency room, fundraising for two high schools, and the Pictou County Wellness Centre.

For recruitment, the organization directly supports Nova Scotia Health for things like site visits and creating localized materials showcasing what life and work (and balance) can look like in Pictou County.

What Healthy Pictou County does:

  • Support settlement of physicians pre- and post-arrival.
  • Organize a variety of retention events including pickleball, golf and more.
  • Celebrate and support local students on their medical learning journey.

Healthy Pictou County has been supporting community-based recruitment since 2018.

The organization recently welcomed and supported 15 students, who are interested in family medicine, for a weekend in Pictou County.

First-year Dalhousie University medical students are welcomed to the area for the annual Rural Week, which enables them to experience what a fulfilling career in medicine in rural Pictou County can look like.

Of the region’s current 31 family physicians, Pictou County supported the recruitment of 14 of them (and ongoing retention efforts for all of them).