It’s really fulfilling to be able to manage all aspects of a patient’s care
All about relationships
Standing in front of the huge floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets that dominate the reception area of her office in Truro N.S., Dr. Karla Armsworthy looks tiny. The cabinets hold the archived paper charts of the 2,000 to 3,000 patients in the family practice that she took over back in July 2016.
“We’re not exactly sure how many patients are in my practice,” she said. “I use an EMR for all of my patients and when I started, I spent a lot of nights looking through their charts, trying to learn about them and their backgrounds.”
Daunting as it might be for a new-to-practice physician to take over from an established family doctor with thousands of patients in their care, Dr. Armsworthy was up for the challenge.
Born and raised in nearby Brookfield, she studied medicine at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and did her final family medicine residency in Moncton. “I really wanted to come home to my community,” she said. “When this opportunity came along, I jumped right in. It was the easiest way to do it.”
The office is a familiar setting for Dr. Armsworthy – it’s the same family practice she visited while she was growing up. These days, she works alongside her own family doctor, Stephen Ellis, plus four other family doctors and a psychiatrist.
She was hand-picked by the physicians to take over the practice of Dr. Roya Murray, a family physician who had worked with the group for 32 years.
Dr. Armsworthy did a family practice rotation with Dr. Ellis in her fourth year of medical school, and says that experience helped make her homecoming happen. “We have a history of doing this in our practice,” Dr. Ellis said. “When medical students and residents understand the interesting practice life and work balance you can have in a rural community, younger colleagues will want to join your practice.”
The physicians not only recruited Dr. Armsworthy, they also mentored her as she transitioned into the new role. That support continues today. “I’m learning from my colleagues here,” said Dr. Armsworthy. “When you are starting out in practice, even though you’ve had residencies, there are still a lot of nuances to learn. Getting that experience is difficult when you are out on your own.”
Beyond her practice work, Dr. Armsworthy cares for patients at a local nursing home, and provides inpatient and palliative care at the local hospital.
What she loves about family practice is being able to treat the whole patient. “It’s really fulfilling to be able to manage all aspects of a patient’s care,” said Dr. Armsworthy. “A patient with heart disease isn’t just heart disease – they’re a patient with a spouse or a partner or a child who is struggling.”
“Perhaps they need help with finances, they may have diabetes or lung disease, they have all sorts of different issues. To really help them be well, you need to address all of those issues.”
Patient Jill Sutherland lives with several chronic conditions, including heart disease, COPD and arthritis. “Dr. Armsworthy monitors all of that for me,” says Ms. Sutherland, who lives in Portapique and drives one hour for her appointments. “It means a lot to me. When I need her, I’ve got her.”
Ms. Sutherland had been a patient of Dr. Armsworthy’s predecessor, Dr. Roya Murray, for 28 years. “When Roya told me she was leaving, I cried,” Ms. Sutherland recalls. “But Roya had a picture of Dr. Armsworthy to show me and that helped a lot. Roya worked hard to bring her in. Once I got to meet Dr. Armsworthy, I just loved her. She’s young and very hands-on. And she knows my history, so when I start complaining about something, she knows what’s what.”
The connectedness between the physicians and other allied health professionals in the community gives Dr. Armsworthy’s patients good access to care. “We all know each other and support each other,” she said. “It’s easy to get your patients what they need, when they need it.”
Dr. Ellis says fostering connections with medical students, residents and new-to-practice physicians like Dr. Armsworthy is key to recruiting physicians in rural areas. “It’s about having those personal relationships – that’s how we’re going to attract people to our communities.”
For Dr. Armsworthy, practising in her hometown is a way to give back to her community. “I always knew I wanted to come home. I’ve never pictured working or living anywhere else.”