Local doctor returns to locum

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

He knew from a very young age that he wanted to have a job where he dealt directly with people on a daily basis.

Jeff Gustafson, 28, a Fort Frances local, is now locuming back home as a family doctor.

Gustafson just finished his two-year residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He obtained his medical degree from Western University and received his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Lakehead University.

Before high school, it was obvious to Gustafson that he wanted to be a teacher, where he could interact with people and share his knowledge. However, he started exploring his options when he met Dr. Cameron Moorhouse.

“He told me what do you think I do all day? I teach people about their health,” Gustafson said. “I teach residents and medical students. I was always interested in some kind of people’s profession and working directly with people, so that piqued my interest.”

As Gustafson’s undergrad years went along, he realized that medicine was a good way to combine his enjoyment for meeting new people and teaching. 

When Gustafson got into medical school, he was open to trying anything, which is why picking a specialty was a tricky undertaking. It also did not help that every aspect of medicine piqued his interest.

“I explored pediatrics and emergency medicine,” Gustafson said. “What I saw growing up was the generalist family doctor who did their clinic, worked in the emergency department and saw you when you got admitted to the hospital. They might deliver your babies and they really did this comprehensive family medicine.”

Gustafson said he later realized in school that when he thought of a physician, he pictured his family doctor.

Being someone who likes to have a lot of variety, Gustafson knew he wanted to practice in a way where he could have multiple practice settings.

Jeff Gustafson

“In a city, it’s harder as a family doctor to practice in multiple settings,” Gustafson said. You are often competing with specialists for those areas, like the emergency department and inpatient wards. Whereas in a small town, you can do a bit more of everything.”

However, locuming and family medicine has allowed him to tie everything together.

“With trying to take in as much as possible, locuming is a way for me to get to work at home and give back to that community but also to have the opportunity to work in other areas and see what I like about those,” Gustafson said.

Practicing doctors face different challenges pertaining to their careers, and Gustafson’s challenge is uncertainty. Gustafson said it is difficult acknowledging that nothing in medicine is ever certain. However, he is comfortable sharing the uncertainty with the patient because it does not give them the false impression that the doctor knows exactly what is going on.

“As doctors, we want to be as certain as we can about the things that we’re telling our patients,” Gustafson said. “But then it also sometimes translates into one of the nice parts of medicine as you build that relationship with a patient. They start to really understand that you’re a person too and you’re trying your best to help them with all of the knowledge that you have access to.”

While it is important to master the medical skills taught at school, Gustafson said there are other qualities that come to play during training, such as good communication skills.

“People don’t often remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel,” Gustafson said. “It’s important that you’re giving accurate information and it’s important that you’re giving it in a way that makes sense to people. It’s something anyone can develop, but it’s the biggest thing that makes people stand out as medical trainees and as full functioning doctors.”

Gustafson is aware that there is a scarcity of medical students from rural towns. Some of the barriers Gustafson heard from people is that this path is expensive.

“A lot of medical schools are recognizing that they need more people from rural backgrounds, Indigenous backgrounds and different socio-economic backgrounds,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson said as far as the training goes, there is a lot of support to get students through.

That being said, Gustafson noted that it is important for doctors to take care of themselves in order to take care of other people. In Gustafson’s first few months at school, he was not playing any of the sports he grew up with. He was just trying to keep up with coursework.

“I found that I was not feeling great,” Gustafson said. “I felt like I could barely keep up. Then I started to play some pickup sports with a few friends. I suddenly found that studying became easier and my grades became better. I was actually able to better balance things by making sure that I prioritize the things that bring me joy.”

Gustafson said he is hoping to help those who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine but are hesitant to make use of the resources at their disposal.

“I’m a big proponent of trying to get more small towns and Indigenous kids interested in medicine,” Gustafson added.