Department Spotlight: Michelle Welch

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in the Caribbean island of Barbados.

What is your education background?

I completed my Bachelors of Science in Biology at Western University, my medical education was in the Caribbean at The University of the West Indies. This is not an offshore US medical school but a historically Caribbean school which follows the British educational curriculum. Following that, I completed a general internship at the hospital in Barbados and worked for a few years there as a GP before returning to Ontario to pursue postgraduate studies in Family Medicine.

Why did you choose family medicine? And now, a plus one in Primary Care Rheumatology, the first Rheumatology program of its kind to be offered in Canada.

Working as a GP in Barbados I always knew I would take my studies further. I loved the opportunity to grow with my patients as I followed them through their various life stages and felt humbled by their trust in and appreciation for me, however, I also felt like my skill-set was incomplete. I wanted to be better able to offer medical care that was evidence-based and focused on prevention. Initially I thought I would pursue further studies in Dermatology. I had a wonderful mentor, who was a Consultant Dermatologist in Barbados and encouraged me to start my own practice. I had my own office and shared staff and overhead. During my time there I saw a lot of autoimmune conditions treated from the Dermatologist perspective and it made me curious about the Rheumatologic management as well, but I soon learned the options for managing Rheumatologic conditions there were quite limited. Two years later I matched to Family Medicine at Western and I chose an elective in Rheumatology. There I again saw some of those autoimmune conditions but with so many more options for treatment I wanted to learn as much as I could to be able to add to my practice. I learned how to clearly differentiate between various types of arthritis and initiate treatment and how to inject knees, elbows, shoulders, ankles and a variety of smaller joints. I also  saw how greatly my patients could benefit from these relatively simple procedures. I knew right away these were useful skills and seeing patients who had traveled for hours to receive an injection that could be done in a few minutes convinced me I was choosing the right area to focus my practice.

Have you had mentors throughout your training? If so, what is one of the best things a mentor has shared?

I have had a few mentors throughout my training whom I found encouraging for different reasons. Some I admired their work ethic or their financial planning or their ability to find balance between family and work. I’ve been fortunate to have many exceptional physicians to learn from. The most impactful mentor for me however, is my mother. From her I learned lessons of kindness, humility, faith and perseverance that have served me well in my life and training thus far. She also taught me to create time for activities which feed my passions and spirit. It is impossible to pour from an empty cup.

Why did you choose to pursue your residency at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?

I was very impressed with the Family Medicine program at Schulich, but moreover, I love the city of London. It was my first choice.

Describe your experience as a resident in the Department of Family Medicine at Schulich Medicine?

My experience as a Family Medicine resident has exceeded my expectations. I knew my residency program at Schulich would prepare me to be a confident, competent and caring physician working within the Canadian health care system. In addition to my medical education, I have made wonderful, meaningful connections with colleagues throughout Ontario, and life-long friends.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your patients so far?

Always take the time to listen. In Family Medicine there is a lot of pressure to navigate and prioritize what is often a laundry list of patient concerns while ever being mindful of the time-constraints of the appointment. A good Family Physician must be a keen observer and listener. Sometimes the most pressing issue for the patient may not be the most concerning issue for the physician, from a health-care perspective. It’s tempting to focus on one’s own agenda but lots of valuable information can be gained by just taking an extra moment to listen.

Can you share more details about your interest in patient and physician wellness?

I believe that physician wellness is necessary to ensure adequate long term patient wellness. For me, it’s crucial to recharge my batteries in order to function in a stressful work environment and avoid burnout. We are well-trained as physicians to perform at a high level constantly and it can be easy to overlook the stress of an average workday as normal. I feel that stress must be managed in a positive way and I believe it is important that as professionals in the business of caring for our patients, we do not neglect to care for ourselves and our co-workers. I am currently conducting a quality improvement project aimed at improving our recommendations to patients about the benefits of mindfulness interventions. It is my hope that another outcome will be improved personal use of these interventions by the physicians involved as well.

Where do you plan to practise once you have completed your residency? Why have you chosen this particular area?

London is home for my family. We have roots here in the form of great friends who feel more like extended family. I can’t imagine us being anywhere else now.

What activities/initiatives are you involved with that help bring balance in your life?

Church, meditation, physical exercise, non-medical reading, family time, travel to name a few. I try to identify one activity each day that is solely for me. Not for work, my family or my patients. It doesn’t have to be something huge, in fact it often isn’t, and it may take a few minutes or an hour but accomplishing that one thing by the end of the day makes me feel appreciated and helps me re-center. 

Who inspires you?

Definitely my patients. Their stories of perseverance, hearing about their challenges and their triumphs is truly inspiring and it remains an honor to be a part of their care and their lives.