Featured Doctors

Dr. Shelagh Leahey

Yarmouth, N.S.

"I want us to set a new standard of what it means to give exceptional care."

Coaching future family doctors latest venture for Yarmouth physician

From the very beginning of her career as a family doctor, Shelagh Leahey has wanted to do it all.

Dr. Leahey has always had a passion for influencing positive change. Her role as a family doctor has not only allowed her to contribute to the wellbeing of her patients but has opened doors to opportunities well beyond clinical care and into different organizations and the broader community.

Apart from opening her own family practice at the age of 24, Dr. Leahey has been an active member on several influential boards, the chief of medical staff for South West Health, a devoted volunteer, a long-standing member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, a world traveller, local family physician, and a mentor to many. For a very short time she was a retiree.

To just about anyone, this would appear to be an extensive and impressive resume. However, Dr. Leahey has recently added one more item to her list of accomplishments, coach.

Just a year ago, Dr. Leahey found herself in a new and exciting role as the medical director for the new Dalhousie University residency training program in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She spends the majority of each day inspiring local physicians and residents to be the best family physicians they can possibly be.

Coach Leahey

On the very first day of residency training, Dr. Leahey found herself at the front of a classroom welcoming residents and physicians while proudly wearing her new ball cap that quite fittingly spelt out her new role in big bold letters, coach.

Throughout her more than 30 years as a family doctor, Dr. Leahey has had a long history of contributing to the local health care system. She started important, meaningful programs and services to benefit the broader community. This kind of work has become a passion. The new residency-training program in Yarmouth is no exception. When she was approached about taking the position of medical director earlier in the year, she found it impossible to turn down.

As medical director, Dr. Leahey connects residents with local family practises and teaches mandatory curriculum to residents. She also instructs physicians on topics such as faculty development, how to set up your resident for success and how to provide constructive feedback.

Dr. Leahey often thought about teaching at some point in her life.

“I think teaching challenges everything you do. That’s why I think it’s so fun to not only teach the residents but the physicians as well,” said Dr. Leahey.

It’s a team effort

During the two-year residency training program, Dr. Leahey said residents can expect to be placed with a family physician and practise in either Yarmouth, Barrington, Meteghan, Shelburne or Lower Argyle in addition to completing academic studies outlined by Dalhousie Medical School which is taught by local physicians and other health care professionals

Working and studying within these small communities is so important because, like other communities in Nova Scotia, all have faced family doctor shortages. Training residents in rural Nova Scotia exposes them to the benefits of living and practising in rural Nova Scotia. The hope is that the residents will choose one of these communities or another rural community to establish their own practise.

“It’s critically important to mesh both class work and hands-on clinical experience,” said Dr. Leahey.

“The two together, taught and demonstrated by physicians will truly help residents understand the connection between studies and practise while putting their learning’s into action. However the one thing you can’t learn in a book or practise in clinical is the unexpected. You must embrace it because in family medicine you have no way of knowing what your day will look like. You may have unexpected drop-ins, inpatient emergencies, a crisis in medical administration or suddenly, a routine check-up that becomes a life threatening situation. It’s challenging and intense but it’s also very fulfilling.”

Like most great coaches, Dr. Leahey believes in providing the best learning environment for her team so they can become the best possible versions of themselves. For her, this means having influential mentors and working in a collaborative environment.

“We get a number of different health care professionals to help teach lectures on certain topics because as family physicians we talk to and work with a variety of care givers everyday like nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists to provide exceptional care,” she said.

“It’s important to give a nice, full picture to what great care really is and that comes with working with and learning from our team-mates,” she added.

We all have something to learn

It may be a program created for residents but Dr. Leahey has no problem admitting that the program serves as a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

“For even the most experienced physician, they have the opportunity to enhance, modify their skills, get a change of scenery and get re-energized about their profession,” said Dr. Leahey.

“For residents, it’s just such an incredible source of information and education. It’s about recognizing the information you’re receiving and learning is credible and solid. It teaches them what proper care should look like and how to use your skills to provide the best possible care you can.”

As for Dr. Leahey, she’s just happy to be giving students the same opportunity someone once gave her.

“When I was a resident someone helped me and I wanted to pay it forward,” she said.

“So when I was approached with this incredible opportunity, I just thought to myself, I can’t let these students down and if I push myself a little bit I can help those people,” said Dr. Leahey.

“The one piece of advice I have for these residents and my soon-to-be future colleagues is to never stop learning. Say yes when you’re asked to be part of a group like provincial community board. The more you give your time to those who need it, the more you will learn.”

The ultimate goal

While the program has only been up and running for a year, Dr. Leahey has already made big plans for not only the program but her students as well.

“I want to see this program go on and flourish, to be seen as an example of how family doctors should be educated in Canada,” said Leahey.

“I want us to set a new standard of what it means to give exceptional care.”
She believes they are doing that successfully and will continue to do it by providing top-notch education and clinical experiences.

“It comes down to how we teach our residents. By having the residents learn from people who love what they do and do it in excellent fashion, they’ll be able to go into their medical careers doing just that,” said Dr. Leahey.

“Being a family physician is wonderful and it has provided me with some of the most amazing opportunities and experiences. I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity to pass on all these great things to my future colleagues. It’s been so fun.”

Dr. Leahey, she has a few personal plans of her own. Her first group of residents are scheduled to graduate in the next year with their Certification in the College of Family Practice (CCFP) in hand. While she plans on being there as her team’s number one supporter, Dr. Leahey will also accept her CCFP that same day.

“I’ve been doing a bit of studying myself,” said Dr. Leahey.
“When I went to medical school, the CCFP wasn’t a requirement to be a family physician in Canada. Now it is and I plan on walking that stage the very same day my first group of residents do. How funny is that! I guess they’ll be the ones coaching me on that day and I think that’s pretty great.”

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