Compassionate Care Curriculum

Getting to Know AMS 2017 Phoenix Fellow Dr. James Goertzen, Physician Leader in Northern Ontario

AMS would like to introduce you to our new 2017 Phoenix Fellow, Dr. James Goertzen. Dr, Goertzen is Assistant Dean, Continuing Education and Professional Development with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

Dr. James Goertzen

Why did you decide to become a healthcare professional?  What was the catalyst for your interest in compassion in healthcare?

I was drawn to medicine by an aspiration of helping others.  I was accepted into Medical School at a relatively young age of 20 years after completing two years of a Bachelors of Science Program.  My first year at medical school was challenging, partially by the demands of the program but more importantly by an apparent disconnect between my values of altruism, caring, and compassion and some of my fellow students with aspirations of status, personal recognition, competitive advantage, and monetary gain.  As a result, after completing my first year of medical school, I took a one year leave of absence to examine my personal values and aspirations.  I spent months living/working in a Nursing Station on the Northern Manitoba Indigenous fly-in community of Little Grand Rapids.  Immersing myself in the community allowed me to better understand the Indian Act, social determinants of health, Ojibwa Indigenous culture, and remoteness.  I also gained experience working/volunteering at a Winnipeg inner city community clinic, and a short residential program on mind-body integration including therapies such as acupuncture, Rolfing, biofeedback, and meditation.

Over this year, my personal values and aspirations to be a caring and compassionate physician were affirmed and solidified.  I returned to Medical School with more certainty and continued my professional training.

How were you introduced to the Phoenix Program? What inspired you to apply for a Fellowship?

I was introduced to the Phoenix Program through my relationship with Dr. Marion Briggs (2013 AMS Fellow) as a NOSM colleague along with our shared work and passion in the area of faculty development.   Two years ago, with Marion’s support, AMS Strategic Advisor Dr. Brian Hodges was invited to be a plenary presenter for Northern Constellations 2016, our NOSM annual faculty development conference.  Brian’s reflections on competency based medical education and medical education for compassionate clinical care provided an impetus for me to further explore my experiences and thinking in this area.  Over the last year, I have reduced my time as a clinician to focus on supporting physician leadership development in Northern Ontario.  In 2016, I completed the Ontario Medical Association Physician Leadership Development Program.  My aspirations to support the further development of physician leaders in Northern Ontario who will lead with a compassionate lens in their work as leaders, clinicians, and teachers inspired me to apply for an AMS Fellowship.

What value does being an AMS Fellow bring to you professionally?

As an AMS Fellow, I have a unique opportunity to further develop as a compassionate physician leader and support the clinical, educational, and leadership work of my colleagues.  The Fellowship has provided me with additional resources both within and outside my organization (NOSM) to focus on my work in supporting physician leadership development.  In addition, on a personal level, as an AMS Fellow I feel inspired, valued, and affirmed in my professional identify as a physician leader.

What one little thing could we do to make our healthcare system more compassionate?

An important step for each of us individually as health care practitioners, is to interact and support each other compassionately.  It is essential that we provide compassionate care to our colleagues in our work and educational settings.

Have you ever been given advice by a patient that changed the way you practice medicine?  If so, what was it?

I have been deeply influenced by my relationship with a patient with a borderline personality disorder.  Our relationship spans over 15 years and we have both changed as a result of our interactions.  My patient had a traumatic childhood which resulted in both narcotic abuse and chronic self harming behavior.  Our relationship has been full of challenging emotions which created discomfort for me as a practitioner.  I felt helpless and hopeless as his family physician.  As a result, I reached out to psychiatric colleagues and consulted the literature extensively looking for new approaches in my therapeutic relationship.  This lead to my realization that my patient was “doing the best job he possibly could” along with a deeper understanding of our relationship and his self-harm behavior.

I listened more and felt more comfortable asking difficult but caring questions about my patient’s his daily life challenges, his emotional health, and the important relationships in his life.  This relationship has been instrumental in my professional development as a family physician providing care to patients with serious mental health disorders.

What advice do you have for healthcare professionals to avoid/overcome compassion fatigue and burnout?

In some ways, developing resiliency to overcome compassionate fatigue is a deeply personal journey and each of us, with support from each other, must find both personal and professional strategies.  Key is our willingness to share and support each other as colleagues, participate in resiliency activities, and value our relationships with family and friends.  It is essential that we discuss both the joys and the challenges of providing compassionate care.

About the author

Dr. James Goertzen
  • AffiliationNOSM

Dr, Goertzen is Assistant Dean, Continuing Education and Professional Development with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

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