Doctor banquet draws packed house

Bryce Forbes

Community support came out in droves as part of Physician Appreciation Week.
The anchor of the festivities—a banquet held last Thursday at the Memorial Sports Centre auditorium—allowed residents a chance to share more than a few laughs, and shed some tears, as three doctors were honoured by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“I think a lot of the doctors are very modest and are certainly not publicity hounds, and I think they were surprised to see how much respect and support they had from the community,” said Fort Frances Coun. Andrew Hallikas, who chaired the Physician Appreciation Week committee.
“Certainly well-earned and well-deserved.
“The place was packed and the vibe was excellent,” Coun. Hallikas added. “It was a really good informal family event.”
“They [the doctors] came over and said thank you very much, and I think they were touched and honoured and appreciative,” echoed Teresa Hazel, who sits on the Fort Frances Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee.
Organizers were overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to recognize their doctor. During the initial planning, there was hope for around 150 people to attend, but that figure soon swelled to almost 300.
“I never like to put a number on it,” said Hazel. “I just knew I thought that 150 would be a nice number to have and when I started to see that number grow—I can’t say I was totally surprised because the people in the community would appreciate and respect their physicians.
“We have never done something like this before to show our appreciation, so I felt once people were aware of what was going on, they were welcomed to come,” added Hazel.
“That it was a community event, not just for physicians or health-care professionals.
“Once that caught on, I was cautiously optimistic that the community would come out and support it,” she remarked.
Although the purpose of the week was to show appreciation for local doctors, it also was a way to show future ones that Fort Frances is a physician-friendly town.
“We wanted to generate recognition for our over-worked physicians and by doing so, getting some good press and publicity for doctors in our town in hopes that it would encourage other doctors to move here and practice,” Coun. Hallikas reasoned.
“I hope it opened a few eyes because as we kept saying a town this size should have about 16 doctors,” he added.
“We have 11, and three of them are still practising in their 70s and 80s. That’s just outstanding.
“So you can imagine, with a requirement for 16 doctors for a town this size and only have 11, how our doctors might be a little over-worked and perhaps a little stressed,” Coun. Hallikas noted.
Three doctors were specially honoured at the banquet for their continued support of Fort Frances with more than 100 years of experience between them.
Dr. Angus Mackintosh was praised by longtime nurse Liz Clark, Joan Allison read a poem for her “doctor and friend,” Dr. Elaine Spencer, and semi-retired Dr. Jas Spencer gave recognition to his “hero,” Dr. Brian Johnstone.
“I’ve worked in four health-care facilities now with a lot of docs and these are the absolute best I have ever seen,” Wayne Woods, president and CEO of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., said at the banquet.
“We wouldn’t have a hospital if we didn’t have a great health care support system,” he stressed.
The committee lucked out by having a current medical student on hand for Thursday’s banquet.
“Having her there, and showing the community does appreciate and care about their physicians, was a good opportunity,” Hazel noted.
“I think our physician group are the best recruiters we have for potential physicians, so I think it’s important we do let them know we care about them and we hope they are happy here and making a difference.”
Prior to the week, there was a prose and art contest for students on the question: “I love my doctor because . . .”
Three winners were selected for prose—Sarah Angus, Adam Stromberg, and Vanesa Theriault, with their letters being framed and hung in the clinic.
The artists selected were Austin Armstrong, Mackenzie Armstrong, Jasmine Bump, Katelyn Bruyere, Jordan Eldridge, Sarah Hudson, Ciara Mainville, Wyatt McLeod, Logan Nugent, Abby Sanders, Judy Wu, and Emma Yerxa.
They presented their drawings to a doctor, who then can hang it in their office.
Throughout the week, the doctors also were given special treats, like munchies on Monday and lunch on Tuesday.
But with three doctors possibly nearing the end of their careers, it’s possible Fort Frances will be short eight doctors over the next few years.
“We hope we don’t lose another one before we recruit another one,” Hazel stressed. “We are definitely in communication with people who are interested in coming here.
“Often times, they need to find opportunities for their significant other in employment fields,” Hazel noted.
“So we do help as much as we can in setting up interviews with appropriate human resources office, or help them get in touch with potential employers here,” she explained.
“Taking third-year students from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine has been a very good opportunity, and we will see in the next couple years whether that assists us because I think we are viewed very well,” Hazel added.
“Their experience here is very good.
“They are welcomed by not only the community, but by the health-care professionals,” Hazel said.
“It’s a really good experience and I think if it’s not only that person who comes, it may be one of their peers they talk to,” she reasoned.
“The doctor shortage is not just in Fort Frances, it’s across the country, so we are competing with a lot of places,” Coun. Hallikas warned.