Dr. Brendan Bunting is retiring in time for Christmas after 40 years as a family physician in Ponoka. Photo by Emily Jaycox

Ponoka family physician retiring after 40 years of service to community

Dr. Brendan Bunting is hanging up his stethoscope after 40 years as a family physician in Ponoka, but will remain active in the medical community.

Dr. Bunting began practicing medicine in Ponoka in 1980 and will have his official last day on Dec. 20.

Raised in Belfast, northern Ireland, Bunting completed medical school there, where he also met his wife, Alison.

The pair were married in 1978 and came to Canada in 1979 as young newlyweds, arriving with just four suitcases and a bank loan that got them here.

The couple chose to come to Canada as they saw it as “a bit of an adventure.”

Also, physicians generally have to go where there are jobs for them and are limited to where their qualifications will be accepted — such as a commonwealth country or the United States.

They lived in Mannville, Alta. for a year before coming to Ponoka.

Neither thought they would stay long, but they soon welcomed two children, a son and a daughter, who they raised in Ponoka, and it became their home.

When he first came to Ponoka, he split his work hours between the old general hospital, which is now gone, and the former medical centre building on 51 Ave, which he says was built in 1953.

Bunting says he liked the job, as it had a good combination of hospital and office practice, and he made friends here.

They physicians in Ponoka at the time he arrived where kind, good mentors, and made the couple feel welcome, says Bunting.

“One thing led to another and we’re still here,” he said, adding they plan to stay in Ponoka indefinitely.

Bunting just reached his 45th anniversary of graduating from medical school, and has the mug on his desk to prove it.

In his distinguished career, Dr. Bunting did a lot of administrative work for the Ponoka hospital, and when health care services became regionalized in the 90s, he became involved in the David Thompson Health Region.

He served as a director for the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) from 1997 to 2005, and was the president of the association in 2003 and 2004, before going on to serve as a board member of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

He was also a medical examiner for the province of Alberta from 1982 to 2012.

Bunting was instrumental in the early 2000s when hospitals switched to a new computerized system and has done a lot of work in that area for the AMA and the government of Alberta.

He was in that role until 2007.

“It was a lot of work to get that all to happen … getting various groups to work together — that’s not always easy.”

During his 40 years here, Bunting has seen Ponoka grow into a community physicians want to call home, with much success in the medical training program.

“Ponoka has really changed quite a bit, from a medical point of view.”

The Battle River medical practice works as preceptors for the University of Alberta’s training of medical students.

When they train here in Ponoka, they tend to want to stay, as six young doctors have after going through the program.

“That in itself is amazing,” said Bunting, as recruiting new doctors was “a big problem for a long time.”

Bunting says the new Battle River Medical Clinic was a big accomplishment for the practice.

He was also very pleased to have been a part of forming the Primary Care Network during his time at AMA president, he says.

Bunting recently celebrated his 70th birthday, which he says is one reason he is retiring.

Alison is a nurse at the Centennial Centre. She has no firm plans on retiring yet, as she is still undecided, says Bunting.

Upon retiring, bunting plans to spend more time at his holiday home in Canmore with his family and three grandchildren.

Bunting says he will retain his medical license so he may also work the odd day at the Battle River Medical Clinic to help out.

With his experience with the computer system, Bunting will continue in a training position at the Ponoka hospital.

His advice to young physicians just starting out is to “embrace the community.”

In all kinds of professions, if one becomes involved in the community they work in beyond their job, they will become much more attached to it, he says.

Bunting didn’t always have a lot of time outside of work, but was involved in sports throughout the years and with church activities at St. Augustine parish.

“When you live in a small community, you’re kind of forced into a situation where your patients become your friends,” he said, adding the distinction between doctor and patient becomes less separated.

“When you find the correct balance it is very rewarding, actually.”

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