My common-sense approach and laid-back Irish attitude are among my greatest medical strengths,” Dr Jennifer Whelan says in her soft brogue. “At least, everybody seems to like it. No matter what the problem, have a cuppa tea. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Dr Whelan always thought she was destined to be an emergency department physician. After graduating from medical school in Dublin and completing her intern year in Ireland, she completed a 6-month rotation at a large tertiary trauma centre in Brisbane, Australia. There, she dealt with all kinds of exotic emergencies, from jellyfish stings to poisonous snake bites, in addition to the more mundane breaks, contusions, and cuts. “We had a whole row of dangerous creatures in jars lined up in the ER,” she laughs. “But curiosity really killed my career in emergency medicine. I kept wondering what happened to this patient, or how is that one doing now?”
So she and her family physician husband, Patrick, a former rugby player at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont, applied as a couple for the Queen’s residency program in family medicine back in 2006. Today, her primary practice is with the nearby Belleville Queen’s Family Health Team, but 2 days a week she works at a community health centre providing continuity of care for “some of the most complex and vulnerable patients in society.”
Family medicine is all about continuity, especially in a tight-knit community like Belleville. “I love living here. I run into my patients on, literally, a daily basis,” Dr Whelan says. “Just this afternoon at the market, I bumped into a woman with a new baby I’m scheduled to see for the first time next week. We also talked about her husband, a patient who’s also a chef at one of our favourite restaurants.”
While Dr Whelan, her husband and 2 young girls have put down deep roots in Belleville, they still get back to Ireland a couple of times a year. Her oldest daughter, 7-year-old Emily, has been 21 times, while her little sister, 4-year-old Isabella, has already visited 12 times.
Despite the repeat visits and the Irish dancing lessons and the favourite Irish television shows they screen online, “the kids are really growing up as Canadians,” Dr Whelan says. “I’m trying to fully embrace the Canadian lifestyle too. I’m learning to ski and I have my first skating lesson set for next week.” But don’t worry. Afterward, back at home nursing those inevitable bruises and aching ankles, she’ll have a cuppa tea and everything will be just fine.
Dr Whelan is a family doctor in Belleville, Ont, practising in an academic community-based practice and a community health centre.
THE COVER PROJECT Canadian Family Physician has embarked on a project to assemble the portrait of family medicine in Canada. Each cover of the journal features a family physician chosen at random from our membership list, along with a short essay—a brief glimpse of the person and the practice. Over time, the randomness will become representative and the differences, taken together, will define what it is that all family physicians have in common.
Canadian Family Physician, November 2015 vol. 61 no. 11 995-997