Elora doctor named Regional Family Physician of the Year

ELORA – Dr. Sarah Gower has received the Regional Family Physician of the Year award from the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Gower was nominated by her peers at the Upper Grand Family Health Team in Elora. Awards were presented at a virtual ceremony on Nov. 10.

“I wish we all could have got this recognition,” Gower said in an interview.

“I depend on my colleagues so much. And as the pandemic has shown, we really need each other.”

Gower grew up in Maxwell, a small town south of Owen Sound and completed her rural residency program in Sudbury in 2002. She locumed throughout rural Ontario and settled in Elora 12 years ago.

“I came late to medical school,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to work in a small town eventually.”

In her family practice, she sees patients from birth through the life cycle. But she has a special interest in pregnancy care, especially care for patients experiencing pregnancy after stillbirth. She has a goal to create a national stillbirth plan.

She recently completed a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Guelph and is the incoming chair of the Maternal and Newborn Committee for the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.

Gower is also an associate clinical professor with the McMaster Department of Family Medicine.

“It’s important to keep maternity care close to home for expectant mothers and this is not easy in rural communities,” she said. “Can you imagine what it’s like when (pregnant) women have to travel two or three hours to see their doctor? This will be really important in the next few years.

“Fergus could be the model of how it’s doable.”

Gower is also behind a new hospitalist program at Groves Memorial Community Hospital that will begin in the New Year.

Hospitalists are much like family doctors with a broad general medical education, as opposed to specialists. They work for the hospital and in the hospital and don’t have a separate family practice.

Gower said right now family doctors in the area have privileges at the hospital and see “unattached” patients as well as patients from their own rosters.

These unattached patients might have their own family doctors in another jurisdiction – Waterloo or Kitchener for example – but they have wound up in hospital in Fergus for whatever reason. Or they might not have a family doctor at all.

The hospitalist will care for these patients while they are in hospital, Gower said.

“It means we can take better care of them (patients) and relieve the work of the local family physicians,” she said. “This will streamline things at Groves. And it will be nice for patients to have one person to contact.”

She called the new Groves hospital “a castle in a cornfield.”

“It’s so fancy – like being on Grey’s Anatomy,” she joked. “It’s light and spacious and state-of-the-art. And patients are getting great care.”

Gower and her colleagues at the Upper Grand Family Health Team piloted an innovative drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Elora earlier this year.

Gower is also spearheading a new Rural Wellington Residential Hospice, to address an identified gap in the local healthcare system.

Gower praised her patients and colleagues for getting through an extremely challenging time in health care during the pandemic.

Doctors and patients both had to pivot to virtual visits, “although we are now seeing most of our patients in the office,” she said. “But I think we’ll keep virtual for some things. It can work well.”

Lisa Dalrymple, a mother of three who has been Gower’s patient for over 12 years, commended Gower’s “terrific ability to communicate her medical knowledge to people of all ages in a way that helps even her youngest patients understand that they are making informed choices about their own health.”

She added, “I often feel, when I come out of an appointment with Sarah, that I have learned about my condition and wellbeing and that I have the knowledge to move forward with a course of action to better my own health.”

The Ontario College of Family Physicians recognizes outstanding family physicians in the province every year.

“Nominated by their colleagues and peers, award recipients exemplify the outstanding skill, knowledge and dedication within the profession,” reads a statement on its website. These doctors “provide exemplary care … and are passionately involved in activities that contribute to excellence in family medicine.”