Port aux Basques family physician Dr. Wendy Graham was installed as president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association during the group's AGM in St. John's on June 7.
© Danette Dooley photo
Dr. Wendy Graham
Originally from Rose Blanche, Graham set up practice in Port aux Basques after completing her residency program at Memorial about 15 years ago.
During an interview at the association's offices in St. John's the day before her installation, Graham reminisced for The Gulf News about her career.
When she initially began practicing medicine, Graham did so with the intention of using the job opportunity as a stepping stone to a career somewhere else on the island or another part of the country.
She soon realized that there was no better place to practice than in a community less than 50 kilometres from her hometown.
"I thought this would be a good place to start before I lost any of my skills as a well trained MUN graduate because I knew I'd get to do a little bit of everything. I thought, after a couple of years, I'd go somewhere else. But I really liked the practice. So we stayed."
Port aux Basques is the perfect place to practice medicine, Graham said. Doing so is as challenging as it is rewarding, she said.
"It's large enough that we have a wonderful health care but we're small enough that we all know each other very well. We see more trauma than the average smaller site by nature of having the wreckhouse and the highest winds in North America and because of people trying to quickly get off the ferry and make the ferry."
Graham works both family medicine and in the emergency room of the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre, with patients in both acute care and long-term care beds at the hospital.
Her practice is broad-based. She works closely with others professionals in the medical field.
"I do home visits. I work in personal care homes. I do palliative care in the home and in our palliative care rooms (at the hospital)."
Graham took over the top job from Dr. Yordan Karaivanov a physician with the Labrador Grenfell Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
When asked about the challenges of leading the association, Graham said one of the top priorities is primary health care reform and system change to support such reform.
"We need to do what we can as a medical association to help reform our system in many ways."
Listening to new medical school graduates is an important part of any change, she said.
Graham said the association is hearing from the graduates that, because of the province's aging population and complex patients' needs, these new doctors prefer working as part of a multidisciplinary team. Doing so allows the physician not only to treat patients but to help keep them out of hospital, where possible.
Graham said because medical students and residents from Newfoundland and Labrador are in high demand across North America, the province has to offer better incentives to influence their decision to stay and practice in the province.
Graham is optimistic that the new $2.5 million signing bonus agreement reached between the provincial government and the association will help keep graduates in this province.
The program provides a one-time signing bonus to eligible general practitioners and specialists who establish a full-time practice for three years in specified communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Emphasis will be placed on recruiting physicians from Newfoundland and Labrador completing their post-graduate medical education in this province or in other Canadian programs, and physicians from other Canadian jurisdictions completing their post-graduate medical education at Memorial University.
"We know if (doctors) stay for a critical amount of time, they are likely to stay for a really long time. And we are hoping this signing bonus will help with recruitment and retention," Graham said.
In announcing the new signing bonus, Health and Community Services Minister Paul Davis said the bonus agreement will help recruit and retain highly trained physicians to rural and remote communities in our province.
"I am very pleased that we were able to work collaboratively with our partner, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, to reach a mutual agreement to address this important issue," Davis said.
There are currently 1,183 doctors working in Newfoundland and Labrador. According to the provincial government, that's the highest number ever working in the province.
Graham is married to Paul Graham. The couple have two children. Andrew is 16. Emily is 13.
When not at work, the Grahams enjoy spending time at their summer home in the Codroy Valley.
A proud hockey mom (her son is an avid player) Graham can also be found at the swimming pool with her daughter.
"I had known of some physicians who worked in the community then went away to have fun. So it's always been very important to me to work in and have fun in my own community. We have lots of friends and we enjoy being part of the community."
When asked if there is anything else that she would consider important to this story, Graham doesn't talk about herself or her own accomplishments, or those of the association she now head. Instead, her thoughts turn to a man who, for decades, was a mentor to many doctors.
Dr. Richard Taor passed away on March 1. Taor served the province's southwest coast for over three decades until his retirement 2011.
While she has had many mentors during various parts of her medical training, Graham said Taor is a legend in medicine and someone she always looked up to.
"Our town is still not recovered from his retirement and then his passing. With the hours Dr. Taor devoted to his community, he totally got what primary health care is all about... the people here really miss him."