Patient Engagement

Getting to Know AMS Phoenix Fellow Dr. Kilbertus, Compassion and Professional Identity

AMS would like to introduce you to our new 2017 Phoenix Fellow, Dr. Frances Kilbertus. Dr. Kilbertus is a Family Physician and Associate Professor, Division of Clinical Science at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

AMS Phoenix Fellow Frances Kilbertus

Why did you decide to become a healthcare professional?

I come from a large family that places great value on education. I learned, growing up, that access to education was a privilege that not everyone had and that it was important to use this opportunity well. I was encouraged towards the sciences and pursued a degree in nutrition. I came to the realization at the end of that course of study that career opportunities for me would most likely be in a laboratory setting but that I really wanted to be a positive influence in people’s lives in a more direct way. I heard about an innovative medical education program at a McMaster University and thought that medicine, as a career, would allow me to interact and work with people in the way I wanted and that the educational approach at McMaster really suited me. After more than 30 years as a family physician and educator, I consider myself very fortunate to have a job that I love, work that is interesting  and new opportunities to learn and grow.

What was the catalyst for your interest in compassion in healthcare?

Compassion and social justice were values instilled in me through my upbringing. Caring for others and sharing what you had was a way of life: getting recruited as a young child to deliver Christmas baskets to needy families or helping with fundraising for ‘good causes’ was what you were expected to do. Looking back, this nurtured a deeper appreciation of my privilege, of trying to understand the position of others, their needs and a call to act. I think this is just part of bringing who I am to the job that I do every day.

How were you introduced to the Phoenix Program?

An AMS Phoenix Fellow, Dr. Cynthia Whitehead, attended a presentation I made based on the research project for my master’s degree in medical education. She suggested I consider an AMS Phoenix Fellowship and through that process I met Dr. Marion Briggs and the ‘Phoenix North’ Fellows and I knew that I had found ‘my people’!

What inspired you to apply for a AMS Phoenix Fellowship?

The encouragement of Phoenix Fellows in general and the opportunity to attend a “Phoenix North” conference gave me the confidence to consider that the work that I had done through my Masters in Medical Education research was important and could grow, particularly within the AMS Phoenix community of scholars.

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

Becoming an AMS Phoenix Fellow has influenced my professional identity. Since arriving in the world of research and scholarly work later in my career, I had not considered myself a scholar but rather a clinician and a teacher. The way that I see myself has shifted and I am empowered to share my voice, my perspective and my work and to learn as part of a critical scholarly community through the privilege of the AMS Phoenix fellowship.

Have you been inspired by any past AMS Phoenix projects?

The writings of many AMS Phoenix Fellows, particular in the area of health professions education and the importance of taking a critical stance, inspired me throughout my recent postgraduate work in medical education. It was exciting to find so many of them on the Phoenix website!

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

Insist that the first 10 seconds of every encounter is a formal greeting to your patient or colleague.

Have you ever been given advice by a patient that changed the way you practice medicine?

I have and continue to learn many things about life from my patients that, I hope, make me a better caregiver. I learned, in my first year of practice, a very important lesson from one patient in particular. She was, what is sometimes referred to as a “difficult” patient, with complicated physical and psychiatric problems and was frequently in the health centre. I was a very new doctor.  I was having a hard time seeing her as more than a set of health problems in a very troubled body. One day, she asked if she could give me a hug and I said okay, with a little trepidation as she was physically intimidating and lacking proper hygiene. In that moment, she forced me to see her as a person and shifted our clinical relationship. I have had many patients over the years who have, metaphorically speaking, taken me by the shoulders and forced me to look at them as a person and not a patient. I try to take that lesson forward, doing my best to see the humanity in everyone with whom I interact.

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

Don’t ignore what you your body tells you, as your body does not lie whereas your mind can convince you of many things. Take a moment to ‘check your own pulse’ and if it is not great seek help to figure out why.

About the author

Dr. Frances Kilbertus
  • AffiliationNorthern Ontario School of Medicine

Dr. Kilbertus is a Family Physician and Associate Professor, Division of Clinical Science at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

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