Walking the Talk

This family physician exemplifies her belief in the positive effects of physical activity

In her career and in daily life Dr. Margo Mountjoy stands as an example of a principle of wellness she has long espoused - the prevention of chronic disease and improvement in the quality and quantity of life through physical activity.

Dr. Mountjoy has been recognized as an OCFP Regional Family Physician of the Year (2016), exemplifying excellence in the field that was her first and only choice nearly 30 years ago. “I really love the first-line approach that family medicine offers. I can start with people and follow them longitudinally – with their concerns and to try and improve their quality of life,” she says, adding that she never doubted what path in medicine she would follow.

Dr. Margo Mountjoy

After a career as an elite athlete during which she distinguished herself nationally and internationally as a synchronized swimmer, Dr. Mountjoy entered medical school. She credits Dr. David Levy, a Hamilton doctor who started the first primary sport medicine clinic in Southern Ontario, for igniting her interest and catapulting her in the direction of family/sport medicine.

She also credits the patients, athletes and colleagues she has worked with, for all that she has accomplished so far. Although inter-professional teams are fairly new in some healthcare contexts, she says, the collective approach is actually long standing in certain areas. “That’s how it’s always been in the sports paradigm,” says Dr. Mountjoy.

Over the years she has practised widely in general family medicine – including pediatric care, palliative care, prenatal obstetrics, post-partum maternal-child care and more – but with the added “competency, expertise, focus and interest” in sport medicine, according to Dr. Mountjoy.

An exceptional family physician, Dr. Mountjoy’s patients praise her clinical skills, the attentive medical services she provides and the extraordinary kindness of her care.

In 2012 she changed her focus from an active family medicine practice and now splits her time primarily between sport medicine and academic medical education. Her current roles include Director of Student and Resident Affairs at McMaster University Medical School and Clinical and Academic Lead of the Health and Performance Centre at University of Guelph.

The busy physician and teacher has also amassed a huge range of experience and expertise, including work in research, international sports medicine and anti-doping, as well as other work with international sports bodies such as the International Federation for Aquatic Sports (FINA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

“I started travelling internationally in 2000,” says Dr. Mountjoy, who estimates her work takes her away from home for more than four months each year. “The knowledge I’ve gained from working with experts from around the world and from a global perspective has spilled over into my practice,” she says. “I can better understand other cultures as well as broadening my exposure and expertise from different people from around the world.”

Her hope is that her active healthy lifestyle – which she says helps keep her “sane and healthy” – also inspires others. “The other side of looking after healthy active people is trying to encourage people who are not active and healthy through physical activity to become physically active – and that is the prevention of chronic disease and improvement in the quality and quantity of life through physical activity in the non-athlete population.”

The evidence is powerful that people who are physically active can improve their quality of life and their quantity of life, says Dr. Mountjoy. “The best medicine one can prescribe from a prevention perspective – either primary or secondary prevention – is physical activity. I really would like to see medicine embrace physical activity in the prevention format.”

It is a thread that runs through her efforts on the international stage, including work with the IOC, UNESCO and the World Health Organization, on projects “focused on using physical activity through sport for increasing quality and quantity of life, and decreasing non-communicable diseases.”

Self-awareness is also critical in the knowledge she hopes to impart to younger doctors. “What I would love to see happen more is physicians’ self-help through work-life balance, health, nutrition, physical activity – as well as promotion to their patients.”