Q&A with Dr. Rochelle Dworkin

Thirty-two years ago, Dr. Rochelle Dworkin arrived in Hanover with plans to do a six-month locum. In addition to working as a family physician for more than three decades, she was the site director for the Hanover Rural Family Medicine Training program from 2009-2017, and taught residents and medical students full time for more than 10 years. She is now retired from that program and clinic.

This past year, she was named as one of the Regional Family Physicians of the Year by the Ontario College of Family Physicians for her exemplary care of her patients and her contributions in promoting excellence in family medicine.

We sat down with Dr. Dworkin to learn more about her passion for medical education, family medicine and hear a few words of wisdom from this outstanding seasoned physician.

What has been your favourite part about working with medical students?
Medical students’ enthusiasm has always reminded me how much I loved learning about medicine when I was at their stage. They were keen and always eager to do everything. I think Schulich Medicine does an excellent job of choosing students who will become good, caring physicians.

Why is it important for medical students and residents to experience their training in the region?
It is very clear that the best way to become a rural physician is to train in a rural setting. This is why our program has the second year residents spend almost all their time in a rural setting. We are teaching a broader set of skills to family medicine residents so that they will feel comfortable and capable to do this work. Rural Canadians deserve to have excellent medical care and this starts with doctors who are able to look after much of their care - including emergency, inpatient, and obstetrical care close to home.

What has been the most satisfying aspect of being a faculty member? What challenges have you encountered as a faculty member?
The most satisfying aspect was developing good relationships with the residents.  I enjoyed getting to know them, meeting their families and watching them over two years of very close contact grow into confident capable physicians.  When they started knowing more about something than I did, I knew I had done my job well.

What unique attributes does a great family doctor possess?
Family doctors need to have patience and empathy. They need to feel comfortable with not knowing the answer to every problem because so many patient presentations will never have a clear cut diagnosis. They need to be able to say to the patient, “we can’t seem to find out what is wrong with you but I will help you along this journey you are having as best as I can”.

I also think it is important to have a sense of humour and to be truly interested in peoples stories. To share their delight when good things happen like weddings and grandchildren and to mourn with them when they are in sorrow.

You’ve had an incredible career. Are there are few highlights that stand out for you?
There have been so many highlights. Throughout the years obstetrics became my favourite part of the job and I have delivered three generations of one family so I am a “great grand doctor”. 

In 2009, we started a rural family medicine site for Schulich Medicine and started training residents here full time. I had the vision and was the initiator of the program and its head for the first nine years. I loved working with the residents and medical students. They made me a better doctor, became my friends and my colleagues. Seeing them grow into amazing family doctors, and for the most part true rural generalists, has been very satisfying.

What words of wisdom or advice do you have for medical students and/or new doctors?
Rural medicine is an amazing career and I definitely encourage medical students to search out opportunities in rural areas. We have the lowest level of burnout and best job satisfaction of all family doctors. Providing comprehensive care and continuity of care is so important for patient outcomes. People’s lives really do rely on having a doctor who knows you well. 

For new doctors, I think knowing how to have some balance between work and home is important. I find the new doctors are much better at this than I was. I also think having a safe place to discuss personal problems is also important. We can’t be perfect, nobody is, although we expect it of ourselves. When there are outcomes with patients that are not ideal, or even disastrous, we need to be able to have someone to talk to and to support us.