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Dr. Julie Copeland returns home to Saint John as Senior Associate Dean, DMNB

Posted by Kate Rogers on May 21, 2024 in News
Appointed in January, Dr. Julie Copeland is the new Senior Associate Dean, DMNB. (Photo: Danny Abriel)
Appointed in January, Dr. Julie Copeland is the new Senior Associate Dean, DMNB. (Photo: Danny Abriel)

For years, Dr. Julie Copeland, a native of Hampton, New Brunswick, was waiting for the perfect opportunity to return home as a rural family physician. 

Passionate about rural medicine and leadership, the former postgraduate director for family medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in Ontario, had often wondered if a career near her hometown would ever be a reality.

And then, in 2010, she watched quietly as plans for the Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB) campus took shape, and as they welcomed their first class of medical students. 

Several years into her tenure at Western University, where she had completed her residency in rural family medicine, Dr. Copeland could now envision a future that included New Brunswick.  

“I remember thinking—I'm just going to see how that all rolls out [at DMNB],” she recalls. “But it was that first moment of thinking I could actually have the academic medicine career that I want at home.”  

Making a move

In 2023, when Dr. Jennifer Hall announced she would be stepping away from the position of associate dean, DMNB, in December after nine successful years, Dr. Copeland knew her term as postgraduate director was also coming to an end around the same time. Already pondering what would come next, she considered if the position just might give her everything she wanted. 

“I wondered if it would allow me to come home and still do the elements of medical education that I was doing in Ontario, which included expansion planning and distributed medical education,” she says. “I sat down with Dr. Hall to talk about the position, and then, as they say, the rest is history.”   

Dr. Copeland joined the DMNB team as senior associate dean on January 15, 2024, after nearly 20 years as an academic family physician at Western. Though the career change has been made easier by an existing support system in New Brunswick, she says it has still been an adjustment. 

“It’s a new institution and a new group of people. It has been a steep learning curve trying to figure out who everybody is, their roles, and how that all comes together, but the team has been very supportive.”

Dr. Copeland is also working out the intricacies of a satellite campus that exists in a separate province from the main campus, with a different government who may have different priorities, and different visions, all working together in one Faculty of Medicine. With a recently released strategic plan, Realizing Our Ambition, she is excited by the direction the Faculty is taking, while also working to ensure it is rolled out in a manner that is in the best interest of DMNB and New Brunswickers. 

Calculating capacity 

With distributed learning sites throughout the province, Dr. Copeland has been traveling extensively since her arrival, meeting all the members of her new team. 

She is focused on the role DMNB plays in addressing the primary care challenges in New Brunswick and understanding their role in the broader context of healthcare system change within the province. Despite the recent expansion of undergraduate seats from 30 to 40 in the medical training program, and a government that she expects would like to expand further, her focus remains on assessing the existing capacity and strategizing effectively. 

“We know if you select the incoming students from the right places and you train them in the right places, then they're more likely to stay and work in those same places,” she says. “But at the same time, coming out of a pandemic, being in a very under-resourced province, there's lots of burnout and lots of things on everybody's plates, so we need to figure out what people are already doing and what their capacity is.” 

Dr. Copeland sees immense value in training more people in generalism, so that they can diagnose and manage a wide range of diverse and complex clinical problems, a strategy that she believes can take pressure off other areas of the healthcare system. She acknowledges, however, the limitations of overburdening physicians and seeks to navigate this fine line by leveraging data and fostering collaboration in the Faculty of Medicine, the health authorities, and with governments. 

And with that in mind, Dr. Copeland is working to gain a better understanding of the distributed faculty to help determine capacity in different areas. She hopes this information paired with regular visits to all DMNB sites, will allow her to provide the support and resources needed to maximize learning opportunities throughout the province. 

“I’m really trying to get a great vision of where are we, what the resources are, who's overextended, and who wants to help and hasn't been brought on to the team yet,” she says. “It’s a question of, who’s the rookie on the bench waiting to get into the game and hasn't been put in yet.”

Dr. Copeland is no rookie when it comes to leadership in a rural and distributed environment. She knows what it takes to achieve success and recognizes the importance of having a presence in the communities you serve, and for the people who support the mission of DMNB.  

“It is literally getting in the car and driving to all those sites, even if it is to simply sit down and have lunch and discuss updates,” she says. “It's showing that you're in their communities, that they are part of who we are as a faculty and not just someone in a rural area that we're asking to do more work.”

A Maritime faculty 

More than three months into her tenure, Dr. Copeland has been impressed by the Faculty of Medicine’s ability to make everyone, whether they’re in Halifax, Saint John, or a more distributed location throughout the Maritimes, feel connected and heard.  

“Despite the fact that the faculty is widely distributed across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, it feels like it is one big team,” she says. “A lot of places will say that, but you don't actually feel it. And that's what I feel in the first three months—that all voices matter.”  

It may have taken her nearly 20 years, but she knows she made the right choice coming home.  

“Three months in and I still think it’s the greatest decision I could have made. I’m very happy to be home.”