Port aux Basques doctor receives rural service award
Award winning doctor encourages other physicians to help reform the health care system
It’s all in a day’s work for Dr. Wendy Graham.
The Port aux Basques family doctor recently received a Rural Service Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.
“It’s a nice recognition,” Graham said. “For those of us who practice in rural communities, that’s exactly what we do as family doctors.
“It’s a career of service. We’re trying to help patients. We’re ultimately patient centered. We have relationships with people and we serve our communities and we try to provide services for people as close to home as possible and we take a holistic view of them.”
Graham says that’s why the award is special.
“It recognizes that you’re doing good work for the citizens of the community, your neighbours, the people you care about and that you’ve been doing it well and you’ve been doing it a long time,” she said. “It’s an honour of privilege to be a family physician, the award recognizes that you are doing some good on a community level.”
Graham specializes in Family Medicine. She is trained to care for patients throughout their whole lives, from birth to senior age. The Rose Blanch native was drawn to this discipline for the variety of care she is trained to provide to patients.
“I wanted to go to a very broad-based practice where I practice generalism,” Graham explained. “Where I could practice family medicine in a host of settings.”
Graham has worked in Port aux Basques for 18 years.
“I have a private practice, I work at the emergency room, I look after patients in long term care, acute care, palliate people in their homes, I do house visits, I do chemotherapy care at the hospital, I do minor surgical procedures in the mornings. I have a very diverse practice in the community,” she said.
Besides her busy practice, Graham also works full-time as an associate professor of Family Medicine at Memorial University; she does some work for the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association; and is co-chair of an initiative called the Family Practice Renewal Program.
Dr. Graham admits that working in rural medicine has its challenges.
“The system works in various silos and has various policies that conflict with each other often,” she explained. “Sometimes I see a family that struggling with a child in the school system, or I see a frail elderly person who has lots of illnesses, and there’s this program and that program and another program that has these all these services, but my patient who needs help doesn’t fit all the checkboxes to the criteria of that program.
“We talk about programs and services being patient centered, but sometimes they are lost in a sea of policies and bureaucracies that conflict with one another,” she continued. “We’re often trying to get help for our patients to be told, ‘I’m sorry, we realize this patient has a need but we can’t help your patient because your patient doesn’t fit our criteria.’”
Graham said that’s the biggest challenge, a lack of strategy.
“We talk about patient-centered care and we talk about interdisciplinary care, but there’s really no strategy to bring these things together,” she said. “We’re really working hard, one on one, case-by-case advocating for patients. I love advocating for patients, but it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is.”
Graham credits her community of fellow caregivers, colleagues in social work, nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and many others, for providing some of the greatest benefits to practicing rurally.
“We know one another very well as a team when we work rurally together,” Graham said. “You don’t have to wonder who saw your patient, who might see your patient, because there’s only one of them.
“So I like to think of our community as right sized. We’re large enough to have the main interdisciplinary professionals, but we’re small enough to know one another and trust and respect one another.”
Graham said, “our system is a system of primary care”.
“At the hospital, all the doctors who work at the hospital are family doctors,” she said. “We know patients are best cared for when they receive care close to home. People have their family members close by, the physicians and nurses know the patient.
“And it’s really those relationships with patients and the continuity of care that’s really special and helps the person get better. I can see the patient in my office, I can see the patient in the emergency room, on a home visit, if that patient is admitted to a personal care home or a long-term care home, I can follow that patient. They’re not seeing different doctors.”
Graham said it’s challenging to co-ordinate all these aspects, but that it is very rewarding to see the patient in different settings and to see the patient and his/her family. “There’s just such an opportunity to work with the bigger community at large,” she said.
Health care reform
Health care reform is an area of particular importance to Graham. She hopes more doctors will seek out roles to help shape and define the fundamental policy guiding the health care system.
“I really encourage physicians to be involved with their communities in terms of serving their communities beyond their clinical practices,” Graham said. “I’ve been involved with helmet use, with schools to develop anaphylaxis policy in school, family medicine reform.
“When we get involved with health policy, work that patients don’t always understand because it takes you out of the office sometimes, when you get involved with that type of work, it makes more of a difference for more people. Sometimes we have to spend time at something else outside of the clinic but it’s really for the betterment of the communities.”
“We’re often trying to get help for our patients to be told, ‘I’m sorry, we realize this patient has a need, but we can’t help your patient because your patient doesn’t fit our criteria.’”
Dr. Wendy Graham
Dr. Wendy Graham won a Rural Service Award April 13.