Posted on 20 June 2012 by Keith Lacey
After spending only a few weeks in town, Osoyoos’ newest doctor believes he’s found his permanent home.
“When we came to Canada from South Africa five years ago, we didn’t know if we would be staying and the thought was we probably would end up back in South Africa,” said Dr. Jaco Bellingan, a general practitioner who has replaced Dr. Christiaan Van Der Westhuizen at the Osoyoos Medical Centre.
“But since we arrived in town, my wife and I have fallen in love with this community and I have no doubt we’re here to stay. I have absolutely no doubt Canada will be our home for the rest of our lives.”
Bellingan, 32, a graduate of the medical school at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, came to Canada in 2007 after accepting a position in Esterhazy, Sask.
“Like many South African doctors, Canada was our first choice,” he said. “We accepted the position in Saskatchewan, but after five years, we were certainly looking for a change.”
The gorgeous South Okanagan weather and beautiful scenery made this part of the country his preferred choice, said Bellingnan.
“We came to Canada always with the thought that one day we would like to end up in British Columbia,” he said. “To be very honest, we wanted to move somewhere with better weather because it was a very hard adjustment coming from South Africa and having to deal with the harsh winters in Saskatchewan.
“We knew this part of the country gets the best weather in Canada and the scenery is simply amazing and it has turned out to be everything we thought it would be and more.”
Bellingan contacted another South African doctor who had moved to Oliver to open a practice, who informed him of the need for new physicians in Oliver and Osoyoos.
“I came here under the condition that I would try both,” said Bellingan. “I worked six weeks in Oliver and then six weeks here in Osoyoos before my wife and I decided to accept the offer to replace Dr. Van Der Westhuizen here at the clinic.”
The proud parents of a three-year-old girl, Bellingan’s wife Ronelle is expecting their second child in the next couple of weeks. She is a licensed physiotherapist, but is taking some time off to help raise their children.
Dr. Van Der Westhuizen, who is leaving Osoyoos to go back to South Africa, was very helpful in helping him set up his new general practioner practice, said Bellingan.
“I’m basically taking over his patient load,” he said. “I will also be accepting new patients and anyone who needs a doctor in town can contact the medical clinic.”
After only a few weeks in town, Bellingan said he’s been made to feel very welcome by the local healthcare community and his patients.
“The reception I’ve received has just been fantastic,” he said. “This is a very friendly community with a lot of very nice people and they have welcomed my family with open arms. It has only been a few weeks, but it really does feel like home.”
He and his wife have been renting a home, but will be starting to look at purchasing their own home once the second child arrives, he said.
Because South Africa has a two-tier medical system, much like that offered in the United States, physicians in his native country often spend “more time running the business than they do on medicine”, but that’s not the case in Canada and he’s very happy about that, said Bellingnan.
“In Canada, you can concentrate only on being a doctor and less on running the business and paying the bills,” he said. “Being able to come to work and only having to worry about my patients and helping them with their medical problems is a real pleasure … it’s why I became a doctor in the first place.”
Being a general practitioner also offers the opportunity to work with patients of all ages and that’s something he really enjoys, said Bellingan.
“I know this town has a lot of seniors and they make up a lot of my patients, but I really like working with young people and I do enjoy pediatrics and working with children,” he said. “When I was in medical school, I thought seriously about specializing in pediatrics, but the beauty of having a general practice is you get to work with all ages, so I get to do a little bit of everything.”
When he’s not at work, Bellingan is an avid and talented golfer with a one-handicap.