Our History

An important journey

The 60s

Our department was founded more than 50 years ago, when The College of Family Physicians of Canada recommended better postgraduate training for the country’s family doctors.

Dalhousie’s Medical School established a committee in 1965 to study advanced training in general practice. The committee was chaired by Dr. Lea Steeves and, three years later, Dr. Don Brown was appointed as the first full-time faculty teacher in family medicine. Dr. Brown was named the first director of residency training.

The 70s

The first clinical centre, which included three teaching practices, was opened in 1970. An interdisciplinary team approach to care was emphasized from the start, incorporating full-time clinical nurses, and a part-time public health nurse, social worker and psychologist. Three postgraduate learners, as well as all third- and fourth-year medical students, trained at the centre.

By 1972, the fledgling program had become a division within the medical school. The number of residents rose to 12 first-year and six second-year trainees. A team of community physicians joined as part-time members of the faculty, including Dr. Murray Nixon. 1974 began with another phase of growth. Dr. Brian Hennen was appointed professor and head of the department. Barbara Prime-Walker, R.N. came on staff as Community Health Nurse. The first inpatient teaching unit opened in the Halifax Infirmary, under Dr. MacAdam Duncan. The next year, the clinical centre moved to larger quarters at Fenwick Towers. Full-time faculty increased to seven with the additions of Dr. David Shires, Dr. Niels Hansen and Dr. Carlyle Phillips. Louise Corbett, R.N. joined the clinical staff at Fenwick and the number of residents in the program grew to 37.

A second unit was formed in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1975, under a committee led by Dr. Anna Mary Burditt. Dr. Michael Keating was recruited to provide leadership for the Saint John unit. Dr. Hennen was able to achieve full departmental status for family medicine in 1977. Dr. David Gass and Dr. Richard MacLachlan were added to the faculty in 1978. Recognizing a need for more community-based teaching practices, Dr. MacLachlan established a satellite practice at Cowie Hill. Dr. Marty Laurence, MSW, PhD received a faculty appointment and was instrumental in the development of our care of the elderly programs. Dr. Ian Cameron joined the department in 1979, and subsequently assumed the position of Director of Postgraduate Training.

The 80s

Dr. Niels Hansen founded another satellite clinic in 1981, the Halifax Infirmary Family Medicine Centre. Dr. Hansen also served as chief of the hospital’s new Department of Family Medicine. A new teaching unit was created at the Camp Hill Hospital in 1981. A group of academic and community physicians provided care for their patients in the new teaching unit. Patricia Johnson, R.N. was hired that same year to work at Fenwick. In 1983, Dr. Jan Boxall assumed the director’s job at Cowie. Shirley Urquhart, R.N. joined Dr. Hansen in the Infirmary practice that year.

The department also assumed responsibility for staffing and organization of the Long Term Care program at the Veterans’ Memorial Building in 1985, first under Dr. David Gass, then Dr. Vonda Hayes. Marilyn Howlett, R.N. joined the Fenwick Centre in 1985, working with Dr. Shires and Dr. Fionella Crombie. Dr. David Maxwell, head of the Halifax Infirmary Emergency Department was appointed in 1985. Dr. David Gass took over as Head of the department in 1987. He recruited several new faculty over the next two years: Dr. Gerry Brosky became director of Cowie Family Medicine, Dr. Marilynne Bell came on staff there, Dr. Cathy Cervin joined the Fenwick Team and Dr. Stewart Cameron took on the position of chief, Department of Family Medicine, Halifax Infirmary.

The 90s

This decade opened another very busy period for the department. Dr. Fred Burge was recruited as research director in 1990. A merger of the Camp Hill and Infirmary Hospitals led to amalgamation of the two Halifax inpatient teaching units at Camp Hill. The next year, physicians on staff of the Halifax Civic Hospital joined the new Camp Hill Medical Centre when the Civic closed. Dr. Stewart Cameron moved the Infirmary practice to Camp Hill, and Dr. Vonda Hayes established a new team there. Dr. Gerry Brosky oversaw the move of Cowie to newly renovated space on Shoreham Lane. After years of preparation and planning, a new teaching unit was opened in Fredericton, New Brunswick under Dr. Bob Tingley. Dr. Mike Keating turned over the Saint John FPTU to Dr. John Brewer in 1995. 

In 1995, Dr. Richard MacLachlan took over as department head. Halifax Family Medicine completed two more moves in August of that year. It consolidated the Fenwick and Camp Hill Centres on the fourth floor of the Lane Building of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. The university department’s administrative offices also moved to the Lane Building, to the 8th floor. In the spring of 1997, the Halifax Family Medicine Inpatient Unit was relocated to 8 Lane, effectively consolidating Halifax activities at the QEII and Cowie.

Several new full-time physicians were recruited, including Dr. Cathy MacLean and Dr. François-Gilles Boucher. The expansion of the residency to 41 positions per year was announced, in conjunction with a re-entry program for Nova Scotian practitioners seeking specialty training. A renovation and expansion of the Cowie Family Medicine Clinic was completed. A teaching centre was created in Sydney, Nova Scotia under the leadership of Dr. Jim McKillop and the Northumberland Training Program was established in Moncton under Dr. Tom Laughlin. Dr. Barry Clarke was appointed Director of Continuing Care Programs for the QEII Health Sciences Centre. Two new RNs were recruited for the Camp Hill Clinics, Mary MacKay and Carol Todd.


Dr. Gregory Archibald was recruited from New Brunswick to take over as chief, Family Medicine, QEII Health Sciences Centre. Dr. Nandini Natarajan joined the Halifax site in 2003. A number of new site directors were appointed including Dr. Joanna Zed in Halifax, Dr. Sue Tatemichi for the New Brunswick Program, Dr. Karlyne Dufour for the Northumberland-Moncton Program; Dr. George Carruthers became provincial coordinator for PEI.

In 2004, Dr. Jennifer Hall took over as site director in Saint John. In 2005, in recognition of the fact that this was now a regional program on five sites, Dr. Preston Smith was appointed head and academic leader for the Maritime Network of Family Medicine in December. Dr. Jennifer Hall was appointed residency program director in 2007 to replace Dr. Cathy Cervin. Dr. Amy Gillis and Dr. Alethea Lacas joined the Camp Hill clinic and Dr. Lynn Bussey was added to the complement at Cowie. Dr. Emily Marshall became a member of the research team.


Dr. Smith had stepped down in 2009 and in 2010 Dr. Greg Archibald was chosen as head and academic leader for the Maritime Network of Family Medicine to replace Dr. Smith. The Cowie Clinic relocated to the South Centre Mall in 2010. By the end of that year, four members of the department had earned master's degrees in education: Dr. Stewart Cameron, Dr. Catherine Cervin, Dr. Preston Smith and Dr. Fiona Bergin. Mrs. Shelley Newman joined the cadre of RNs on staff and plans were announced to move the Camp Hill Clinic to Mumford Road in Halifax.

The department welcomed the Saint John Family Medicine/Emergency Medicine integrated program, with Dr. Peter Ross as program director.


In 2012, the Camp Hill Clinic moved from the Abbie J. Lane Building to the West End Mall in Halifax. The new clinic's name became Dalhousie Family Medicine, Mumford Clinic. Annapolis Valley also became the seventh teaching site for the Family Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Roop Conyers was appointed as the site director. Dr. Fiona Bergin would take over as the new site director for the Halifax program. Dr. Joanna Zed became clinic medical director for the Spryfield and Mumford clinics. 


In 2013, the department welcomed its eighth teaching site in southwest Nova Scotia, with Dr. Shelagh Leahey as director. South West Nova welcomed five PGY1 residents in July 2013.


Dr. Jennifer Hall stepped down as the family medicine postgraduate program director, accepting a new role as associate dean, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. Dr. Karlyne Dufour, was appointed as DFM's new postgraduate program director and began her term on April 1, 2015.


In 2018, Dr. Greg Archibald stepped down as department head and Dr. David Gass rejoined the department as the interim department head. 


Dr. Kath Stringer joined the department as head and Dr. Sasha Seeley was appointed the new postgraduate program director, both beginning May 1, 2020