April 2018

Residents Committee Feature Series

Read our interviews with family physicians in their earlier years of practice, discussing why they chose the professions, a typical week in practice, advice for new grads and more. 

In this debut Q&A, the Residents Committee sat down with 2017 Award of Excellence recipient Dr. Jillie Retson of Kenora, Ont., to discuss life after residency, her inspiration for becoming a family physician, her experience practising family medicine in a rural setting and her unique work-life perspective.

Q&A with Dr. Jillie Retson

Photo of Dr. Jillie Retson

Why did you choose family medicine?

Knowing that I would ultimately end up living in a small, rural and remote town in northwestern Ontario, choosing rural family medicine made perfect sense.  For me, becoming a rural family doctor meant the exciting prospect of being a true generalist in the field.  My personality is one that enjoys knowing a little bit about everything. I was excited to have the ability to acquire a broad range of skills and operate fluidly between office clinic, ER shifts, inpatient care and surgical assists. It also presented the perfect opportunity for intellectual challenge, variety, constant learning on the job, procedural skills and developing strong, lasting relationships with both my patients and the community in which I work.

 

What does a typical week of clinical duties involve?

Currently, my weeks vary greatly. A typical month involves one week caring for 15-20 inpatients each day, with the remaining weeks filled with a mix of family practice clinic, surgical assist and a position as Medical Lead for the Internal Medicine and GP Extender program at the hospital. Until recently, I worked one ER shift a week for the first seven years of my practice but gave that up to pursue the Medical Lead position.

 

Why did you choose your particular practice location and type of clinical duties?

I grew up in Kenora, a small town of 15,500 people in Northwest Ontario located about 45 minutes from the Manitoba border. It’s nestled on Lake of the Woods, which is the most beautiful lake I have even seen with its 14,000 islands and pristine calm waters and shoreline. Our hospital and clinic are located on the waterfront:  I boat to work from my cottage in the summer and take calls from the beach. You can’t beat the lifestyle and this – balanced with the fact that I have so many amazing and supportive colleagues – is why I chose to practise in Kenora. I also participate in a wide variety of clinical duties, including both in and outpatient responsibilities, because it keeps life exciting and challenging. I am never bored.

 

What has been your journey from residency to now? Did you do any locums or enhanced skills/additional training?

I chose to do my family medicine residency in Thunder Bay, Ontario through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). This allowed me to obtain the practical hands-on learning and exposure to a variety of clinical experiences that helped develop the breadth of clinical skills necessary to practise rural medicine. NOSM’s rural family medicine program was amazing and I completed many rotations in smaller rural communities, where I was often the only resident in line helping to manage the most exciting cases and getting to perform all the procedures. My husband and I started a family while I was a resident and I therefore didn’t do any locums or extra training after my residency, instead deciding to settle down to a family practice. I felt prepared for independent practise after my residency, but at the same time knew I had supportive colleagues who would help any time I needed guidance or mentorship.

 

What is the best part of your practice?

It’s interesting how the best aspects of practise have changed for me over the years. When I first started as a family physician, I loved the clinical aspect of medicine. I cherished developing relationships and getting to know the patients in my practice. I also loved the fast pace and quick-fix feeling that the ER provided, in contrast to my office work; there was never a dull moment and always something new to learn.

As time went on and I started to appreciate some of the challenges we face as rural physicians and communities in the north, I have most enjoyed taking on leadership positions. Working both at the hospital and within the community, I was able to start advocating for more resources, develop new clinical programs to address gaps in care and work with others to help create a vision for healthcare in our community. Right now, this is the work I am finding most meaningful.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of your practice? 

Working in a small rural community that is still below its required complement of family physicians is extremely challenging.  It’s frustrating knowing we are not able to meet the full primary care needs of the people in our community, especially our surrounding Indigenous communities. It is heartbreaking to see these patients come into the ER or be admitted as inpatients with advanced disease processes. For example, patients requiring amputations of limbs due to uncontrolled diabetes, which could likely have been prevented with adequate access to good primary care.

 

What is your work-life balance like, and how do you achieve it?

As stated by Kristine Stewart, the first woman and youngest person ever to head the CBC, the term implies that we can have an equal amount of everything in our lives at the same time. This is often unrealistic for most of us. Instead, she coins the term work-life fluidity to describe how we need to be able to move fluidly between the various aspects of our lives, deciding what needs priority. We need to recognize that there will be times where we are required to put our heads down and work long hours and then there are times when we need to pull back from work to nurture our family, our relationships, and our soul.  I find doing this well is one of my greatest challenges.

Personally, what has worked for me is getting as much support as I can outside of work, so that when at home, I’m free to spend as much time as possible with my loved ones, or explore personal interests that help me to recharge. For me, good childcare, a housecleaner and a good bookkeeper/accountant are worth their weight in gold. Learning to say no and setting your own personal boundaries is also important. 

 

Do you have any advice for residents finishing their training?

Always follow your passion! Try to focus on work, activities, and relationships in your life that give you energy instead of draining it; you will realize quickly what these are.  Don’t be afraid to try new things or allow your career to evolve and lead you down a different path than you originally imagined - it might be the most exciting adventure yet! Enjoy one of the best and most rewarding jobs in the whole world and remember first and foremost to take care of yourself, because no one else will do it for you.

 

About Dr. Jillie Retson

Dr. Jillie Retson is a rural family physician practising in Kenora, Ontario. In addition to practising family medicine, she is a co-founder of the Kenora Area Health Care Working Group and Medical Lead for the Internal Medicine and GP Extender program at Lake of the Woods District Hospital. Dr. Retson also received a 2017 Award of Excellence from the OCFP, recognizing her dedication to improving healthcare quality and inciting positive change in her community.

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