New Medical Society president helps patients bedside and in the boardroom
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.’
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.