Dr. Carol Fenton landed her dream job when the world abruptly changed this past spring.
The newest medical health officer for Interior Health, Fenton began work in March, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — something she described akin to “drinking from a firehose.”
While trying to focus on familiarizing herself with her peers and new responsibilities, the pandemic was changing the way everyone was working before Fenton even got situated.
“It was not a normal state that I started in,” the 33-year-old told KTW. “In some ways, it was to my advantage because we were all learning this together, but it was a crazy time.”
Fenton said the pandemic has changed the focus of her job in a big way.
“I’d say 80 to 90 per cent it’s COVID all the time, whereas in a normal state, communicable disease would be maybe 10 to 20 per cent,” she said.
Fenton’s job is based in Kamloops, but she spent the first few months working in Kelowna and getting to know her colleagues in person before having to work with them remotely. She began working from Kamloops in August.
Equipped with video-conferencing technology during the pandemic, Fenton said she feels they have the best of both worlds.
“I can be on the ground in Kamloops and have my finger on the pulse of local things and able to support the community — at the same time being able to collaborate with my MHO colleagues every day,” Fenton said.
She currently works from her Kamloops home and occasionally at the public health office downtown.
As a Kamloops-based MHO, Fenton said she shares the geographical responsibility for addressing issues in the Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap health region of Interior Health with colleague Silvina Mema.
“If there are geographical concerns — if there’s a spike in overdoses, if there’s a concern about flu shots, if the local long-term care has a question, their question comes straight to me as a geographic MHO,” Fenton said. “And, if need be, I can go there in person and talk to them because I’m here in person.”
Medical health officers have a variety of duties. They carry out requirements under the Public Health Act, report on local public health issues, carry out statutory functions for a geographic area of a health authority, provide direction to managers and health professional, advise and work with local governments and boards on various health issues and communicate with the public through the media.
The Kamloops-based position came at a time when there had been calls from city hall for better communication from Interior Health about the pandemic, with Mayor Ken Christian stressing the need for a Kamloops-based MHO to guide the community through the crisis.
As an MHO, Fenton is the lead medical health officer in charge of overseeing COVID-19 testing in the health region and is notified of every single positive test result.
“We’re always keeping tabs on how many positives we’re getting,” she said, noting her work on that file includes rollout of the COVID-19 gargle test and addressing any concerns nurses may be having.
She is also the co-lead on managing long-term care under COVID-19 in Interior Health, responsible for files such as visitor screening and limitations, enhanced cleaning measures and staff screening.
Fenton said it’s a challenge to make sure other aspects of the job aren’t lost in the shuffle — a big one for Kamloops being the increase in overdose deaths.
“These deaths are all entirely preventable and we need to not lose sight of that, even though we’re being bombarded by COVID,” she said.
Fenton was born and raised in Calgary, where she completed her education.
“I lived there pretty much my whole life,” she said.
Completing an undergraduate degree from the University of Calgary in health sciences, Fenton went on to complete medical school, specializing in public health and preventive medicine, and completed a masters of sciences in community health sciences.
After finishing her residency program in 2018, she started teaching for the medical school and bachelor of health sciences program at the University of Calgary before filling in as a medical health officer in Halifax over the summer of 2019.
From fall 2019 until this past spring, when she joined Interior Health, Fenton worked in addictions, prescribing Suboxone and methadone to people struggling with opioid abuse.
Having kept an eye out for MHO positions, Fenton said she is now working her dream job.
Fenton said she wanted to move to the B.C. Interior, in part because she has family in Invermere, North Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.
“We often spent our summers in B.C.,” Fenton said.
She enjoys spending time in nature, cooking and water-colour painting.
“And, like everyone else who moves to Kamloops, I like hiking and biking and cross-country skiing,” she said with a laugh.
She has a partner who is a family physician in Kamloops and they own two cats and a dog.