Wide reach

New Med­i­cal So­ci­ety pres­i­dent helps pa­tients bed­side and in the board­room

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM DAY

Dr. Jill Cun­niffe has been work­ing both with pa­tients and the process to help pro­vide the best care pos­si­ble.

The Char­lot­te­town na­tive made a con­scious de­ci­sion early on in her ca­reer to be in­volved in both the med­i­cal and man­age­ment side of health care.

Over the course of her ca­reer that be­gan in Cal­gary in 2000 and shifted to P.E.I. eight years later, Cun­niffe has held sev­eral lead­er­ship po­si­tions within the health-care sys­tem.

She was acute care chief of fam­ily medicine with the Cal­gary Health Re­gion and hos­pi­tal­ist pro­gram leader at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal in Char­lot­te­town.

Cun­niffe says she has al­ways been in­ter­ested in help­ing im­prove the sys­tem and the process.

“One thing you re­al­ize as a physi­cian is the de­ci­sions you make at the bed­side for your pa­tient is re­ally im­por­tant: get­ting good in­for­ma­tion, di­ag­nos­ing them well, treat­ing them well,’’ she says.

“But then the sys­tem in which you do that also has to be high func­tion­ing or else what you do at the bed­side will have less im­pact. Doc­tors need to play a role in man­ag­ing that sys­tem be­cause we are our pa­tients’ ad­vo­cates and we know if the sys­tem can’t do this for my pa­tient than my pa­tient’s care is go­ing to be com­pro­mised.’’

Now Cun­niffe has ea­gerly taken the reins as pres­i­dent of the Med­i­cal So­ci­ety of P.E.I. to pro­mote high stan­dards of health and health care for all Is­lan­ders.

“Here on P.E.I., not un­like many other places in the coun­try, we have some work to do,’’ she says.

“I prob­a­bly got into hos­pi­tal medicine be­cause I like the acu­ity of the pa­tients. I like look­ing af­ter sick pa­tients.’’ Dr. Jill Cun­niffe

“We have to fig­ure out a way to de­liver care in the right place with the right provider at the right time to keep peo­ple as well as pos­si­ble.’’

While Cun­niffe em­braces op­por­tu­ni­ties to help im­prove the health-care sys­tem, her work as a doc­tor is her pas­sion.

“I’m happy to go to work ev­ery day,’’ she says.

“I have a dif­fi­cult job — a chal­leng­ing job — but it gives me lots of re­wards.’’

Cun­niffe is a hos­pi­tal­ist — a fam­ily physi­cian who spe­cial­izes in the care of pa­tients in hos­pi­tal.

She looks af­ter up to 17 pa­tients at any one time in the QEH.

In the morn­ing, she gen­er­ally sees her new pa­tients, gets to know them, ex­am­ines them, or­ders any needed tests, meets with their fam­i­lies, and dis­cusses the care and/or treat­ment plan.

Cun­niffe will then do her hos­pi­tal rounds and fol­low up on ex­am­i­na­tions.

On this par­tic­u­lar day, her pa­tients in­clude a per­son over 100 years old, sev­eral oth­ers in their nineties, a num­ber of peo­ple who had strokes, and some who have chronic lung dis­ease and a few with vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

She has a heavy load, and she seems to welcome it.

“I prob­a­bly got into hos­pi­tal medicine be­cause I like the acu­ity of the pa­tients,’’ she ex­plains.

“I like look­ing af­ter sick pa­tients.’’

Her three young chil­dren, and her engi­neer hus­band John Cun­niffe, are ac­cus­tomed to the doc­tor’s seven-day straight stints work­ing at the QEH. She is not com­plain­ing. She even finds time to vol­un­teer as co-chair of the West Kent Home and School As­so­ci­a­tion, where two of her chil­dren at­tend.

“It’s im­por­tant to be vested in your com­mu­nity,’’ she says.

“Your chil­dren model what you do. So if you are in­ter­ested in their ed­u­ca­tion, it im­plies to them that that’s im­por­tant.’’

She and John de­cided to leave Cal­gary for P.E.I. in 2008 so their chil­dren, in her words, would be raised in a com­mu­nity that knew what com­mu­nity meant.

The cou­ple plans to stick around for years to come.

“We have a very nice life here,’’ she says.

“I work with re­ally solid col­leagues.’

JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN

Dr. Jill Cun­niffe, a Char­lot­te­town na­tive, was re­cently in­stalled as the pres­i­dent of the Med­i­cal So­ci­ety of Prince Ed­ward Is­land. She re­places Dr. David Ban­non of Summerside.

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