The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians (SCFP) are pleased to align with the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) to acknowledge the outstanding work of family physicians and the central roles they play in our communities and in our health care system – particularly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 19th, CFPC recognizes the hard work and dedication of all family physicians across Canada – in every community, big and small – who are on the front lines of care and often the first point of contact for patients. Below are some of the stories of how Saskatchewan family physicians have contributed to our COVID-19 efforts.
Over the past year family doctors have bravely adapted to accommodate the needs of their patients during the pandemic by incorporating virtual care visits for patients; lending their expertise to hospitals and long-term care homes; volunteering to support the medical community outside their regular practices; advocating for enhancements to the health care system; and educating people about the importance of following public health recommendations to prevent the community spread of COVID-19. Above all, as front-line workers, family physicians put the needs of their patients and communities first, and for this we salute them.
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The past 14 months have been busy ones for Estevan family physician Dr. Boye Adeboye. Around the same time the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last March, he became Area Division Lead (Network 9 Southeast) with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). Last month, Boye stepped in as interim lead of Family Medicine for the southern portion of the SE region, which encompasses four networks. And informally, he’s been drawn into Saskatchewan Medical Association matters, as the local regional medical association is not active. This is all on top of his busy rural practice, which provides ER and hospital coverage, addiction services, low-risk obstetrics, and OR assistance.
Serving in new health leadership roles during the pandemic has been equal parts rewarding and daunting, says Dr. Adeboye, who is active in his local church and helped found a running group in Estevan. Rewarding, because he never imagined himself in leadership or administrative roles. He appreciates the opportunity to work with people he would not otherwise have had the chance to meet. And it’s satisfying, he says, to solve problems impacting a much wider population than his own local practice. At the same time, being a leader during this time has been daunting, because one can’t see around the corner, to know what COVID is bringing next.
The opportunity to step up into new roles has expanded his previously narrow view of himself as a clinician only. “I now have a broader perspective on financial and health management, culturalism, and workforce issues,” says Dr. Adeboye. “On a personal level, it has improved a lot of my soft skills.” He’s also enjoyed observing — and learning from — more experienced leaders.
Dr. Adeboye says that, once the pandemic recedes, he’s going to miss the regular interactions he has with the new people he’s met. “But I feel confident that having seen all that can be achieved working in tandem over this pandemic period, the appetite for continued collaboration and reaching out will remain.”
Regina family physician Dr. Shain Thakrar gets a boost from seeing the looks on patients’ faces when they get their jab and hearing what they plan to do once things return to normal post-pandemic. “I love hearing grandparents say that they can’t wait to hug their grandkids. I haven’t been able to see my own grandmother, so I understand.”
During the pandemic, Shain — who usually works in the emergency department and Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) clinic — has stepped up to serve as physician lead for Regina’s COVID-19 assessment and treatment site and as vaccine physician co-lead for the Queen City’s Integrated Health Incident Command Centre (IHICC).
He says it’s been rewarding to help develop a site tailored to providing in-person assessment and delivering primary care to COVID-positive patients. “Many patients have been quite nervous and scared of their diagnosis,” says Dr. Thakrar. “Being able to care for them alongside such a compassionate group of family doctors working at the ATS has been a privilege.”
For Thakrar, the pandemic has reconfirmed the importance of outreach, community engagement, and advocacy on behalf of Saskatchewan’s most vulnerable individuals. “I hope we take the lessons we’ve learned engaging with these diverse groups and communities and apply them in a meaningful way going forward.”
One of the things Shain is most looking forward to once the pandemic is over is attending the CFL Labor Day Classic game in Regina and Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. “As a huge Blue Bombers fan, I like to take any opportunity to watch them play and Iove the friendly banter with my colleagues!”
Dr. Laura Tanyi-Remarck moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Saskatoon in 2019, to care for her mother. After working in community health and family medicine in the US for 21 years, the family physician was looking for an opportunity to serve a community similar to the one where she’d grown up in West Africa. An opening in La Loche in spring 2020 presented just such an opportunity. Then COVID struck
“My experience in community health brought me to the pandemic, and my life-long passion for serving disparate, underserved, and traumatized people brought me to La Loche,” says Tanyi-Remarck.
She initially served as the connection between family medicine, the community’s public health, and Emergency Operations Centre efforts. “I worked with the nurses, and EOC on the front line, helping public health reach the community during the initial wave. I was the family medicine interface to help the community recognize how serious this was and translate our efforts in a culturally humble way that the community could trust.” Several months into the pandemic, she was promoted to lead physician.
In this new role, Laura has taken on a number of extra duties in addition to her clinical practice. She organized an assessment testing centre at the community’s health care center, to add to an isolation area at their emergency room so it could safely handle COVID-positive patients. She ensured the health team in La Loche stayed on top of the ever-changing guidelines coming from the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Laura took on a staff position with the innovative 811 healthline physician team, to help manage demand on ER’s provincially. And as the community’s elected medical advisor, she sits on a number of committees in the region.
Laura says the pandemic has taught her the importance of maintaining a strong and balanced sense of self-care when you’re under pressure. “As a leader of a team in times of crisis, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Learning how to fail early and get right back up, keeping our small but mighty team inspired with positive role-modelling, and still being able to function for the greater good, is extremely important.”
For Prince Albert family physician Dr. Andre Grobler, the pandemic has given him a chance to spread his wings.
A licensed pilot — and a doctor with Enhanced Surgical Skills training — Andre has been flying to Deschambault Lake, Pelican Narrows, Southend, and Sandy Bay, to ensure expectant mothers in the north are appropriately managed before they come to Prince Albert for their deliveries. “I love the surgical side of things and obstetrics. And I like flying. So it’s really satisfying to be able to use my hobby to do my job,” says Dr. Grobler.
In addition to this extra clinical work, Andre is Prince Albert site lead for the Saskatchewan Health Authority and over the past year helped steer the introduction of a hospitalist program in PA. It was gratifying, he says, to see his colleagues come together, set aside the issue of funding (which was still up in the air at the time), and simply do what needed to be done to make the change happen. “In Prince Albert we are about 140 physicians, and almost overnight we had to change 180 degrees how we were doing business. That was really, really satisfying to work with my colleagues in that way.”
One of the few things Andre says he WILL miss about the pandemic — the early days, at least — is the gift of the extra time he was able to spend at home, with his seven- and soon-to-be nine-year-old sons. “That part of the pandemic I think was really good for my family, as it forced us to have a bit more time together.”
Saskatoon family physician Dr. Meredith McKague was just three days into a scheduled sabbatical on March 19, 2020, when she was called back to help coordinate medical students volunteering to help with COVID-19 contact tracing and calling patients with negative test results.
McKague, who practices at Westwinds Primary Health Centre, was also planning to do some travelling and a leadership course in Toronto during her time off. “So obviously that didn’t happen,” recalls Dr. McKague with a chuckle. “But honestly, relaxing at the beginning of the pandemic — that wouldn’t have been good for me. So it was great to have a way to contribute.”
Last spring, Meredith also worked with staff from the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s quality improvement team and emergency departments to pilot a program that had medical students and physical therapy students coaching emergency staff on donning and doffing personal protective equipment.
In September, McKague became associate dean for undergraduate MD program in the College of Medicine. It’s a busy job she says has been made doubly so by all the changes in program delivery required because of COVID. Students’ clinical experiences paused at the pandemic’s outset needed to be rescheduled, the College had to sort out with the SHA what students could and couldn’t do, and faculty needed help making the shift to teaching remotely.
Dr. McKague has appreciated the shared purpose and sense of urgency that is helping move things forward quickly within both the health care and health sciences education systems. “I certainly hope we can maintain that. It’s been an unexpected, positive part of the pandemic.”
Meredith says she’s drawn strength from the volunteer efforts of medical students. “For me, that was very gratifying — to see our future leaders in the health care system putting so much effort and time and energy into the public health effort. It certainly helped me get through the challenges of the pandemic, seeing something so positive happening as a result.”