‘Working with the young bright doctors of today, I must stay on my ‘A’ game because they know so much’
Dr. Heidi DeBoer is one of 20 family medicine residents currently completing their last two years of training at RVH through the Family Medicine Teaching Unit (FMTU). Dr. DeBoer is shown on rotation with RVH’s Dr. Christiaan Stevens, radiation oncologist. DONNA DANYLUK PHOTO
Dr. Heidi DeBoer may have closed her textbooks, but she’s still learning.
And some of her best lessons have come from her patients.
“I’ve learned that medicine is far more of an art than I thought it was. Actually it’s as much of an art as it is a science,” says Dr. DeBoer, a second-year family medicine resident with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s (RVH) Family Medicine Teaching Unit (FMTU) — a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “You learn so much by listening to your patients.”
With a caseload of almost 200 patients, Dr. DeBoer does a lot of listening.
And a lot of running.
While the avid runner does hit the beautiful trails in the area for exercise, much of her cardio is done in the halls of RVH. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve worked in almost every area of the health centre — emergency, inpatient units, palliative care, oncology and obstetrics,” she says. “In addition, I have my own roster of patients where I’m working as their family doctor. It’s a unique model because the patients are our own, just as if we were in our own practice, and yet, we have more experienced colleagues to bounce ideas off of.”
Dr. Brent Elsey says he is honoured to be one of those experienced colleagues. He recently moved his family medicine practice from Stroud to the FMTU, located in Rotary Place, adjacent to RVH. He wanted to be there when residents, like Dr. DeBoer, have one of those ideas they’d like to bounce off of him.
“Working with the young bright doctors of today, I must stay on my ‘A’ game because they know so much. Their energy and enthusiasm has rekindled my love for learning and has encouraged me to improve my clinical skills,” says Dr. Elsey.
The program is now in its fourth year and provides the final two years of training for family medicine residents. Twenty residents are currently getting hands-on training and mentoring from 23 family physicians and 77 specialists both in the health centre and in the community.
“They are the perfect students to teach as they are motivated, committed and have a hunger to learn. Being a faculty member with the FMTU has allowed me to come full circle,” says Dr. Elsey. “In 1974 I started Medical School at the University of Toronto. I am now mentoring and teaching University of Toronto resident physicians.”
There’s a huge benefit to the community as well. With more than 30,000 people without a primary care physician one of the biggest needs in the area is for family doctors. The ultimate goal is for the medical residents to set up their own family medicine practices in the area and already the program has yielded results.
To date, eight of the residents have graduated and four have stayed in the area. From the recent graduating class, Drs. Brent Morin and Paul Cooney have decided to stay and make Barrie home.
“Our clinic at Rotary Place enables the residents to learn and practice in a patient-friendly environment which will further enhance patient care,” says Dr. Stuart Murdoch, FMTU program director and RVH’s chief of Family Medicine. “The RVH medical staff and the medical community have been supportive of this project and those of us working with the residents will become better doctors ourselves through the teaching experience.”
Even if a resident decides not to stay, more than 3,000 people now have access to a family physician because of the program and because new residents enter the program each year, there will always be a ‘new’ doc to take over when others graduate.
“When we launched this partnership, we joked that we were ‘growing our own doctors’ – we had no idea how true that would be,” says Janice Skot, RVH president and CEO. “This was a logical step for RVH as we continue to develop unique ways to deliver healthcare to the people of this region. This initiative is a milestone for healthcare innovation and community-based medical training, and has positioned RVH as a centre of educational excellence.”
Dr. DeBoer would have to agree. She says her experience at RVH, through the FMTU, has confirmed her career choice.
“In medical school I just couldn’t decide which specialty I wanted to do – I just loved everything. Being a family physician allows you to do everything. I’ll admit there’s nothing like delivering a baby and then following that baby through your practice. At the same time, it is so humbling to be with a palliative patient and then visit with the family after the patient has passed away to share in their experience.”
And what are the chances Dr. DeBoer will open her own practice in the Barrie area once she graduates?
“This area offers a great work-life balance. You are close to the water, there’s hiking trails, ski hills, cottage country nearby and Toronto is only an hour away. The community is great and the family physicians here are fantastic,” says Dr. DeBoer.
“Am I staying in the area after I graduate? Well, I bought a home.”
Donna Danyluk is with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s (RVH) Corporate Communications department.