Leading by Example

Dr. Jo-Anne Hammond epitomizes the continuity, trust and understanding of family physicians

Dr. Jo-Anne Hammond OCFP Regional Family Physician of the Year

When she first started practising more than three decades ago, Dr. Jo-Anne Hammond – an OCFP Regional Family Physician of the Year – had no intention of going into family medicine. She had started a residency in internal medicine and says she had not considered a residency in family medicine “despite having had great exposures” to family medicine in undergrad.

Dr. Hammond, who has been a comprehensive family practitioner in London, Ontario since 1987, recalls with clarity the two events that propelled her into this life-long focus. The first situation concerned a patient who was instructed on discharge to ‘stop smoking, stop drinking and lose 50 pounds.’ The patient, says Dr. Hammond, ended up ill and in the emergency room three days later having made none of those changes! The second encounter was with a demanding patient who complained continuously and made things difficult for everyone on the ward. “At the end of a long shift, I finally sat down with this man to talk,” recalls Dr. Hammond. “What I learned was that he was by himself, he knew he was going to die – he had lung cancer – and he was going to die at the hospital,” she says. “We were the people he needed to support him in this journey.”

Indeed, these memorable incidents brought home a blunt message, that “people need to have support”, and helped spur a switch to family medicine. Three decades on, Dr. Hammond’s patients attest effusively to how she regularly goes out of her way to provide the support they need – whether through home visits, advocating to get them necessary services or following up with personal weekend or late-night visits when they are admitted to hospital.

But in addition to praising her skills, knowledge, care and concern, patients offer other extraordinary descriptions of Dr. Hammond – including “quarterback”, “compassionate”, “confidante”, “friend” and “safe place”.

Her colleagues similarly note not only her impressive levels of leadership, professionalism and technical expertise, and her tireless work as a clinician and medical educator but also other exemplary traits that are rarer. These qualities include her great ability to inspire residents while also imparting practical skills, the urgency she feels about the need for care providers to support the community in which they practice, and her commitment and hands-on work to help relieve stresses on the hospital system.

So, how does a busy family physician handle the ongoing challenge of multiple, often urgent, patient commitments amid the responsibilities of her personal life? According to Dr. Hammond, she makes lists knowing they may need to be re-worked. “For my kids [when they were young], I would often say, ‘You guys are the most important people to me in my life but right now someone else’s life experience is really important at this very moment,’” she says.

Later this year, the busy doctor and new grandmother will begin another phase of her career, transitioning to a more focused practice of referrals for family practice obstetrics. While still a comprehensive practice, says Dr. Hammond, the new venture reflects one aspect of family practice about which she is passionate: “beginning-of-life” care. (End-of-life care is another.)

Various emotions are present as she gets ready to pass the torch to a former resident who will take over her practice. “It’s really exciting … I’ve been able to train somebody, to groom them for my practice so I feel like I’m not leaving my patients,” she says. “And yet the challenge is, I’ve been taking care of [some of] these people for 30 years.”

With the transition patients can take heart that any training by Dr. Hammond includes a large dose of role modelling. She notes that this includes taking opportunities, such as in discussions at sign-in rounds, to show values and, by extension, teach values. Ultimately, however, she acknowledges individual responsibility for accepting the role and privilege of being a family physician. “Values are person-specific, so all I can do is live my values, role model – and my learners choose to accept them or not.”