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Drs. Sue Atkinson, Fred Burge, Barry Clarke, Abir Hussein, Karen McNeil, and Holly Zwicker featured on Your Doctors website
Dr. Sue Atkinson - Health care for all
Early in her career, Dr. Sue Atkinson was approached by someone she knew from the two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus (2SLGBTQ+) community with a question: would she take a transfeminine person who was having difficulty accessing health care into her practice?
“I am part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, so I’ve had an interest in queer health all along,” said Dr. Atkinson, a family physician in Halifax. “However, I knew nothing about trans health when I finished medical school and residency. I started learning as much as I could so I could give her appropriate care, and things went from there.”
For nearly 30 years, Dr. Atkinson has been a beacon in Nova Scotia’s 2SLGBTQ+ community and a champion for her patients. Since 1992, she has been delivering care to queer and gender-diverse individuals at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre (HSHC), an inclusive, pro-choice clinic with a focus on youth, reproductive and gender-diverse care. Dr. Atkinson and her colleagues approach sex and sexuality in a non-judgemental way.
Dr. Fred Burge - Providing care at life’s end
A leader in end-of-life care in Nova Scotia, Dr. Fred Burge’s interest in family medicine stems from his appreciation of the physician-patient relationship. Dr. Burge believes that the relationship between a patient and their family doctor is the foundation of care, especially in end-of-life care.
“It’s these relationships that help me provide the best care to my patients as they enter the final stage of their life,” said Dr. Burge. “The shared experiences of illness between patients and family physicians over the years set them up for ideal primary palliative care when life’s end is approaching.”
Palliative care is often viewed or described as that aspect of care provided by a “specialized health care team for those very near death”. For family physicians, primary palliative care is about bringing a palliative approach to care earlier in the trajectory of life limiting illness. It is a unique yet important focus for Dr. Burge. Participating in the lives of his patients from birth through to the final phase is an extraordinary partnership that he values.
Connecting seniors with family doctors
Nova Scotia seniors now have a better chance of seeing the same doctor in their care facilities, thanks to the innovation of a concerned family doctor. Dr. Barry Clarke is passionate about improving care for residents in long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia. He has designed a program that allows a deeper relationship between the patient and physician.
The program, Care by Design, coordinates the management of care on each floor of 19 different long-term care facilities in the province. Care by Design is about bringing care providers – whether that is a physician or paramedic to patients in their home or at long-term care facilities. “This saves unnecessary visits to the emergency room that can sometimes lead to extended stays in hospital,” said Dr. Clarke.
Dr. Abir Hussein - It takes a village
Dr. Abir Hussein is mentoring the next generation of family doctors, helping more people in her rural community access primary care
As an international medical graduate (IMG), Dr. Abir Hussein’s path to practising family medicine in Nova Scotia was not straightforward.
Born in Kuwait, she studied medicine in Cairo. After graduating in 2002, she worked as a family doctor in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before moving to Halifax in 2009 with her physician husband and their two daughters.
“Most people go to big cities like Toronto, but we had heard that Nova Scotia was a good place to raise our kids,” Dr. Hussein recalled. “We landed in Halifax and fell in love. It was our first time in Canada.”
The couple thought they would soon find rewarding work as physicians. “There were a lot of conflicted feelings when we first arrived,” said Dr. Hussein. “It was difficult and disappointing. There was shock and fear that we might not ever practise in Canada.”
Dr. Karen McNeil - On their own turf
A school-based medical clinic in Spryfield helps kids and their families access health care when and where they need it
Every morning during the school year, kids and parents climb the sloping sidewalks to Rockingstone Heights School, a primary to grade 9 school perched at the top of Regan Drive in Spryfield, N.S.
“Everyone calls it ‘The Rock,’” says family physician Dr. Karen McNeil. “The school is the heart of this community.”
Dr. McNeil works in the school’s youth health centre, which provides primary and pediatric care for students and their families. Many schools in Nova Scotia have similar centres, but they’re typically only staffed by social workers or nurses. It’s unusual to find physicians in the mix.
Dr. Holly Zwicker - Good access doesn’t happen by accident
When Dr. Holly Zwicker and her business partner Dr. Shauna Herman were setting up their Tantallon-based medical practice in late 2009, they had a clear idea of how they wanted to provide care.
“Our vision was to provide community care, and to provide really good access and a really good standard of care for our patients,” says Dr. Zwicker.
Seven years later, through a careful combination of hard work, collaborative care and technology, that vision has been realized. Now, Drs. Zwicker and Herman work with four other physicians, a family practice nurse and several administrative staff to provide comprehensive medical care for 10,000 patients.
“We try to see our patients as much as possible,” says Dr. Zwicker. “Sometimes that means seeing patients on a squeeze-in basis; or they might be scheduled for the early morning slots that we reserve for same-day or next-day appointments. After hours we do house calls to see patients who can’t get in to the office, and we also do palliative care home visits and nursing home visits.”
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