Department Spotlight: Maria Mathews, PhD


Maria Mathews, PhD, has worked in rural and remote areas across Canada, and has seen firsthand the challenges associated with living in small communities, far from big health care centres.

Today, you can find her in the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, a part of the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, in London, Ontario, a hub for medical excellence in the region.

“I am really excited to be in Ontario, where amazing health research infrastructure, like the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), exists,” said Mathews.

Mathews believes that in moving to Ontario to join the Department, she has better positioned herself to use her existing networks and lived experiences to build on the research she is interested in. 

“Researchers, collaborations, teams – it's easier to be part of them.”

The collaborative approach championed by the Department of Family Medicine and the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and colleagues at Western University, has nurtured Mathews’ passion for research.

“Before I even moved here, people were asking to work together,” said Mathews. “I’m excited to be a part of a group of like-minded individuals with the desire to do good research, and a willingness to work together.”

Mathews’ research interests include the physician workforce, primary health care, access to care, and health care in rural communities.

Many of her projects have looked at recruiting and retaining physicians in Newfoundland.

“While it’s true that rural students are more likely to work in rural areas, they are just a small percentage of the students we train,” said Mathews. “We need to address, and look at getting other students to work in rural areas.”

And while the research shows that financial incentives work in the short term, and may succeed in keeping a physician in an area for a few years, the physician turnover is ongoing.

As a result, rural patients don’t benefit from continuity of care.

“This doesn’t bode well for health promotion and chronic care,” said Mathews. “If we don’t have continuity of care, how can we improve rural health care?”

Mathews and her team want to evaluate the link between education, and health care policies, and quality of care.

Interested in not only the policies, but also the practice of the Canadian health care system, Mathews is going on 10 years of volunteering with the Justice Emmett Hall Memorial Foundation, a Canadian charitable foundation that supports the legacy of Justice Emmett Hall who advocated for the principles of universality and accessibility in the Canadian health care system.

The foundation works with the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research to celebrate excellence among those leading or undertaking health services research.

Mathews recounts her nomination and the subsequent acceptance of Justice Emmett Hall to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame as one of her proudest professional achievements.

A 2017 inductee, Justice Hall is remembered as a father of Canadian medicare whose work helped form our national identity.

Mathews sees public health insurance as more than just free health care, but rather opportunity.

“Many of today’s students don’t know a time when their mother or grandmother would have had to drop out of school or leave the work force to care for a family member,” said Mathews.

The Department of Family Medicine invites you to join Maria Mathews, PhD, as she sheds light on a current project (a national study involving International Medical Graduates, IMGs) at the upcoming Family Medicine Grand Rounds on April 3, presenting, Do Canadians who study abroad make better residents than traditional international medical graduates (IMG)?

Current data show that Canadians students who study abroad (CSAs) are more likely to get residency spots than immigrant IMGs.

“But when it comes to passing exams and working in rural communities after graduation, the two groups are equivocal,” said Mathews. 

The Grand rounds presentation explores some of the perceptions around CSAs and other IMGs and how they affect post-graduate training.