Academic Family Medicine with Dr. Joanna Caron

Academic Family Medicine with Dr. Joanna Caron

« The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards. » – Anatole France

Dr. Joanna Caron, family physician at St-Mary’s Hospital

This is what academic family medicine allows Dr Joanna Caron to do in her daily practice. Before getting into what her practice entails, let’s take a look at the path that led her to it.

She first finished a degree in Biology at McGill before completing medical school at the same university. After her graduation, Dr Caron did a two-year residency in Family Medicine at St-Mary’s where she is now a staff physician.

Why did you choose family medicine?
« During clerkship, I liked all of my clinical rotations except maybe for surgery!” (laughs). She struggled between pediatrics and family medicine because she loved interacting with children. However, she soon realized that family medicine was the specialty that best fit with her several interests. She values the continuity of care that she can offer to her patients. Indeed, she is able to establish a long term relationship with them allowing for a special connection to be created. Moreover, family medicine provides the flexibility and diversity that no other specialty does.

What is your practice like today?
Dr. Caron presently does outpatient clinics from all group ages (newborns to geriatric patients). She is also a physician for half a day a week for a nursing home (résidence de ressources intermédiaires). Around 40% of her practice is dedicated to academics. In the clinical setting, she supervises medical students and residents in their clinical activities. She reviews patients with them and encourages clinical thinking around the cases. Dr. Caron is also part of different committees both at Saint-Mary’s and McGill University. At the moment, she is part of the Longitudinal Family Medicine Experience committee which is working to introduce twelve sessions with a family physician preceptor for students in the first year and a half of the medical curriculum. This will expose medical students to family medicine earlier in their studies. She is also an Osler fellow (supervisor) as part of the Physician Apprenticeship program which consists of small groups of medical students that meet throughout the 4 years of medical school. The program aims to promote reflection among students and help them through the transition from layman to physician. Since 2009, she has worked to integrate collaborative leadership courses in the undergraduate curriculum. Up until now, a session on communication in teams and a session on conflict negotiation have been successfully introduced during the third year of the medical curriculum.

In order to be a good teacher, you have to see the subject in the learners’ point of view.

Did you do any additional training?
She did not do any additional training although she would like to do a Masters in medical education in the near future.

What do you like in your practice?
“I like what I do because it reminds me why I got into medical school. Trainees are so eager to learn! And it is great to interact with them” she says. Moreover, she admits that it helps her keep up to date in a specialty that requires you to do so since there are so many new things that come out every day. She also likes being in the different committees because several people work together to find solutions to the problems identified in the curriculum. For her, it is great that everyone collaborates in order to improve the medical education of future physicians.

Dr Caron reviewing a patient with a Family Medicine resident

What are the attributes needed to practice in this field?
In order to be a good teacher, you have to see the subject in the learners’ point of view. “You could be an expert in something, but be unable to explain it to others” she says. Moreover, she admits that you need patience and be creative about how to present the concepts to the trainees.

What are the challenges faced in your practice?
Dr. Caron says that the main challenge is that you need to work with limited resources and make the most out of it. As well, the balance between her personal and professional life is also a challenge that she faces every day. However, she says that academic medicine allows her to have a good balance because most of the meetings are in the day so she can be home with her two children later in the day.

Is there a specific training required to practice in this field?
Dr. Caron admits that there is no specific extra training necessary to practice academic medicine. However, family medicine residents are trained and encouraged to develop their teaching skills throughout their training. For example, family medicine residents at Saint-Mary’s are required to prepare presentations to medical students as well as to each other on different topics relevant to family medicine.

Additional training available:

The centre for medical education at McGill offers a Postgraduate Fellowship in Health Sciences Education which is a twelve-month program to prepare trainees for educational roles in academic medicine.

For more information, visit McGill’s Centre for Medical Education – Opportunities

University of Montreal, Laval University and University of Sherbrooke offer a third year enhanced skills program after family medicine residency called Programme du clinicien érudit (PCE).

For more information, go to (sites are in French):

Do you use a smartphone? If yes, what applications do you find useful?

“I use my iPhone all the time!” She uses UptoDate and Rx files most of the time.

Do you have any advice for future family physicians?
“I find that nowadays family physicians tend to niche themselves too much” she says. In other words, they tend to specialize too much. She believes that future family physicians should not forget that the heart of family medicine is primary care. Moreover, she says that the best way to keep up to date is through teaching so you should consider a career in academic medicine. “Remember that many teaching techniques can be learned so do not think that you have to be born to be a teacher to practice academic medicine”.

Thank you Dr. Caron!

Interview conducted by Carolina Capelle
McGill University

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