Family Medicine Matters Blog

The OCFP Blog discusses current topics and invites members to share their perspectives and ideas, and engage in a dialogue.

Family Medicine - Our Profession Matters

November 11, 2016

Family medicine matters. What we do every day matters to our patients, it matters to our communities and it matters to the complex health-care system in which we work. 


Family physicians and the work that we do are critical to the effectiveness of primary care – a sector that serves as the foundation of all high performing health systems. From the work of Dr. Barbara Starfield and others we know that when primary care is anchored in comprehensive, coordinated care and there is a continuous caring relationship with a family physician, individual patient experiences and health outcomes improve and costs to the system are reduced. Family medicine practiced in a way that reflects the Patient’s Medical Home concept, and is underpinned by these principles, also improves the way in which we experience the practice of family medicine.


Over this past year I have been honoured to hear the stories that speak to how deeply you care for your patients, and for your communities. Those of you in comprehensive practice are working hard to make high quality and accessible care for your patients your daily reality, and those of you in focused practice are working hard to support your colleagues to deliver great care. Many of you are teaching, leading your peers with your EMR, undertaking research and getting involved in the ways that you can with your local family physician groups, your hospitals, with Health Links, taking on formal leadership roles with the system and working with other organizations focused on improving care. In so many ways you are bringing the value of family medicine and the creativity within our profession to the challenges that we and our patients face every day.


I have also felt really privileged to hear from patients about what their family doctors mean to them, and how their family doctors impact their lives or the lives of family members. Those stories of caring, of bearing witness to patients’ lives, and of being present to the needs of the community are both moving and inspiring. I look forward to celebrating many of those stories at the upcoming OCFP President’s Installation and Awards event on November 24th, which is taking place during the Annual Scientific Assembly in Toronto.


I know that in many ways our work has felt harder in the past few years. The system in which we work has not always supported or been responsive to our needs as we work for our patients. We have not always felt that family medicine and primary care are the “heart” of the system, and we know that there is much about our health-care system that needs to change.


Complex challenges, like transforming our health-care system, raise many questions and have no easy answers. How do we create a system that both better serves patients and better supports health care providers? How do we improve quality of care, while decreasing costs?  Can we better understand our local areas and the needs of the whole population while ensuring that the infrastructure required to do that is “just enough”? Can we increase our attention to primary care at the foundation and heart of the system and still focus on the improvements that need to happen at the secondary and tertiary levels of care? How do we embrace the current innovations that technology presents while holding on to the very traditional and important healing relationships we have with our patients?


Complex systems also challenge us to grapple with uncertainty and to try to find a way forward, knowing that we may misstep and stumble, but also knowing that not taking a step forward is to risk that things will not improve. As we move into the coming year we will continue to face both the challenge and the opportunity of more firmly placing family medicine and primary care at the heart of the system.


No single person or organization has the one right answer to addressing complex challenges. What I know however is that each of us holds a piece of the solution. Capturing and reflecting the richness of experience and perspectives of family physicians is critical if we are going to build a better system for our patients and for all of us, and the OCFP is committed to this work. We will all benefit if family physicians are present and bring our best to the conversations – with each other, with our patients, with the health settings in which we work, and with our communities.


I have found the writing of Brenda Zimmerman and her colleagues in the book Getting to Maybe really helpful when I think about the work ahead and the possibility that comes with being present and engaged:   


“We can act only in time and space, we can only act from who we are. This apparent limitation is actually our greatest strength. In connecting to the world, even in the smallest ways, we engage its complexity and we begin to shift the pattern around us as we ourselves begin to shift. Social innovation begins where the individual and the system meet. It takes courage to engage and stay engaged; it takes courage to act in the absence of certainty and clarity.  But to not engage, to not connect does not mean we protect ourselves from uncertainty…to not engage simply reinforces the walls inside and outside us, and makes the future much less bright. On the other hand, by paying attention to how and when we engage…we do more than pull down a few walls:  we engage with possibility, we engage with what may be. And seeming miracles become possible.”[1]


As we move forward into the coming year, my hope is that we can each in our own way and in our own place continue to bring our stories, ideas, and perspectives to the task of building a better system together.


This week is Family Doctor Week and my term serving you and the OCFP as your president is coming to a close. I hope that this week in particular we can each take a moment to celebrate one another’s good work, to consider what brings us joy in practice, and to reflect on the value of investing in the caring relationships we have with our patients.


As the next year unfolds, I hope that we can stay engaged in the important conversations that we need to have across our profession and across the system, lifting up what we believe can make a difference for the care of our patients…because family medicine matters. It matters to us all.


With gratitude for the year that has past and with hope for the years that lie ahead of us,
Sarah Newbery MD CCFP FCFP

[1] Westley Frances, Zimmerman Brenda, Patton Michael, Getting to Maybe – How the World Has Changed, Vintage Canada, August 7, 2007.  


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