Family Physician. Family. Physician. Spoken as a compound term, it means that I have the privilege to look after generations of patients, from conception to death, health to illness, cure to comfort, and everything in between. Spoken as a singular term, “physician” means I am among a group of well-respected, educated, trust-worthy, hard-working group of professionals who serve their patients by providing health care in a spectrum of clinical situations. If, however, I focus on the term “family,” it means something else. It is the group of people in my inner circle, those who I care for and who care for me. We share in each other’s joys and struggles, successes, and failures, providing accountability when required, and edification when needed. They are the people who fill my life and my days with endless joy, and at times heartache. We are family.
I was fortunate to have my family during medical school at the University of Calgary. The stresses of exams, and the toils of clinical rotations were arduous, but the joys of having two young children run to the door to greet me, immune to the stressors of medical life, created a levity and perspective that was refreshing. Riding bikes to the park made the long hours of clerkship and anxieties around CARMS much more tolerable.
Nonetheless, the financial burdens of caring for a family of four during medical school and residency, at a time when my wife was making her career as a golf professional on the LPGA, wasn’t without significant strain. By the time I was out of residency in 2006, after a total of 10 years in undergraduate, medical school and family medicine training, we had amassed nearly $200,000 in student and bank loans.
The year following residency is the first year physicians begin to make a salary, referred to as ‘doctor-money.’ However, it is also the year that the CRA requires installments, the student loans need to start to be repaid, and the banks require a repayment plan. This culminates into a decent income that seemed to transfer out of the bank account, as quickly as it went in.
One particularly lean month in June of 2006, after our taxes had been paid, our loan repayments had been processed, and our mortgage was withdrawn, we were out of money. I recall we needed to give lunch money for our son’s field trip. I honestly don’t remember where the field trip was, but I remember they were going to have a cash lunch of a juice box, hot dog, and an ice cream sandwich. We didn’t have it. I was a practicing physician, had worked 11 years including 10 years of education to provide for my family, and we didn’t have lunch money. With resolve, my wife and I went to the basement, collected all of our empty bottles and took them to the bottle depot, to give our son cash for this field trip. I remember feeling the irony and despair that I, as a family physician, needed to return bottles, to feed my family lunch.
I acknowledge that this was the most financially strapped we have ever been, and thankfully we have never had to return bottles for lunch money since then. After 17 years of medical practice, our family is in a much more stable financial place, and enjoy many privileges we are incredibly grateful for. Our children are either in university or working in their respectively field. My wife has a fulfilling job as a golf coach for Team Canada, and we are to able to help support our children and their future. I am incredibly thankful for the patients, colleagues, and community that I have been able to work alongside for nearly two decades. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
However, I will always remember that it comes with sacrifice, including returning bottles for lunch money.
Even as a family physician. Family first, then physician.