Big Rewards in a Small Town
Council Award Recipient: Dr. Steven Griffin
“I feel like I have five part-time jobs,” jokes Dr. Steven Griffin. That’s life as a small-town doctor.
Bancroft, population about 3,500, is the major village in Hastings County. Dr. Griffin, the College’s most recent recipient of the Council Award, has worked there since 2008, and serves multiple roles. He practises family medicine and is on staff at the Quinte Health Care North Hastings Hospital, providing coverage for the emergency department and the inpatient medicine unit. He’s also the sole investigating coroner for the community.
As an assistant professor with Queen’s University, Dr. Griffin is affiliated with a Belleville residency program. He works with residents who’ve completed their rural rotations there, bringing them into his family practice and the local hospital. A number of these residents have enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to establish their practice in North Hastings.
As a small-town doctor, and believing in comprehensive care for his patients, Dr. Griffin conducts home visits throughout a large geographic area. These are patients who would otherwise find it hard to get to a doctor.
“Several families in our community have expressed their sincere gratitude for his compassionate care for their loved ones in their homes,” says Vic Bodner, Mayor of Hastings Highlands. “They could not remain at home without his support.”
Dr. Griffin was raised in Whitby and Oshawa. He has a Bachelor of Science from Queen’s (1999), a Master of Science from the University of Toronto (2001), and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Toronto (2005).
He and his wife Celine have twin eight-year-old daughters, Charlotte and Clara. They live on a property with 130 acres, along with three dogs, a cat and some chickens. Dr. Griffin is involved in the community as a soccer coach and VP of the Bancroft Soccer Club. “Being in a small community, people have to make things happen. I’m trying to do my part outside medicine.”
We recently spoke to Dr. Griffin about serving a rural community, and some of the best lessons he has learned. We also have a video 🎥 of his remarks when he accepted the award at the March meeting of Council.
You were on a different career path before you turned to medicine. But did you always want to be a doctor?
I didn’t think I was going to be a doctor growing up. I wanted to be an astronaut.
What held you back?
My vision and I was afraid of heights.
Those childhood dreams turned into something else when you were an undergraduate.
When I got into university, I was more interested in biology than life sciences and pre-medicine. I kept the doors open, and did write the MCATs, but in my third year took a course on plant reproductive biology. I thought I really wanted to do something different and pursued a brief career in evolutionary biology research. I took my Masters in evolutionary biology and studied the mating systems of trilliums. I travelled all around eastern North America, collecting plants.
During your medical education, what was your most lasting lesson about what makes a great doctor?
Patients start to tell you their story, and sometimes you start to ask questions. You have to bite your tongue. Usually people will just talk and tell you most of the information you need. Including personal bits that might not be medical information, but tell you how they view the world and where they’re coming from. There are things that come up that maybe wouldn’t have asked but you’re glad they told you. You don’t have to ask a lot of questions most of the time.
You were set to practice in Kingston. How did you end up working there?
When my residency was winding up, I saw an ad for a locum in Bancroft. I said to my wife, let’s go there for the summer. I did a two-month locum and enjoyed the town and the practice. I felt I did what I was trained for, which was a bit of everything. I sold our house in Kingston and broke my lease with my medical practice there. When I came here there were six doctors.
What are the particular rewards of this practice environment?
The scope of things you have to deal with. Between inpatient work, being a family doctor and emergency work, I have to deal with so many presentations. I don’t think my practice would be as varied if I was in a larger centre.
Being in a smaller centre, where everybody seems connected, how do you think it makes you a better doctor?
We almost always find out what happens to our patients. To be a good doctor, you have to reflect on what happened, what you did right and what you did wrong. Going to grocery store, my kids think I’m a movie star. They say ‘dad, everyone knows you.’
You routinely do home visits. What do you find most rewarding about those?
Throughout my practice I’ve always had a small roster of patients who are bed-bound or home-bound. I see house calls as a good part of family practice. Often, I’ve found that I learn more about a patient in the first five minutes in their house than I would in 30 visits to my office. Are they making meals? Is the house neat and organized? Do they have anyone with them? It has always been a real eye opener.
You said you feel that you juggle a bunch of jobs, and one is the local coroner. What drew you to that, and what keeps you at it?
Coroner work is one of the best jobs that I do. It’s a public service. For the last year-and-a-half I’ve been the only coroner in town. When people die, their families want answers. Usually, I can give them those. That’s satisfying at a time of loss.
What do you see as your proudest achievement?
When I came to Bancroft I was the youngest doctor in town by far. Since then we’ve been able to recruit seven doctors, six of whom stayed. I’m now the second-most senior doctor in town. When people start out, it can be really intimidating to be a doctor in a small town. I try to mentor the younger doctors. That’s really rewarding.
Video from Council
On March 6, 2020, the CPSO Council Award was presented to Dr. Steven Griffin, a family and emergency physician from Bancroft, Ontario. The following were his remarks upon receiving the award.
Thank you Dr. Rapin. It was very – always weird hearing yourself described some glowing, nice terms. But I appreciate this very much. Thank you to the Council for this award to the college. It’s a great honor and privilege. Never really thought I’d get an award like this. And I’d just been working day-in day-out, doing my best. So, it’s nice to be recognized. Thank you for the treat of bringing us down to Toronto and getting to see the big city. My daughter said there’s no snow – so, it’s snowing now. And I guess, just showing them also – showing my daughters UofT, and I did my first clerkship day at Women’s College. Well, that thing’s gone now, but… Just showing them where I did my training and see Toronto as well, and so again, thank you to the College for this award.
There’s a lot of people to thank. I thought if I jotted some names down, I wouldn’t forget anyone. Tammy Davis, who is the manager of the hospital, who is one of the nominators of this award. She’s a great person to work with. And I don’t – I can’t do what I do without the people working with me. And Tammy runs the hospital very well. We have great nurses there, great physicians that we work with. So, thank you to Tammy Davis, and then in my office practices, well, I’ve been blessed that the day I showed up, I was given a receptionist who told me what to do. And I got a nurse who also told me what to do for the most part, and is still working with me twelve and a half years later. We’ve forgot to make T-shirts when it was ten years, but it’s been that’s again – part of the success is having good people working with you and doing all the work. It’s not just me doing the job, it’s everyone.
And then also to thank my parents, who are sitting here as well. They – well, they’re my parents, they got me through medical school and everything else. It’s a very big support from them. Yeah, then next to them – my daughters, Charlotte and Clara, who do support me, because I come home and they’re quite happy to see me. Now they’re starting to ask, “Do you have to go to the hospital?”, “Do you have to go take that phone call?” So, there’s a little change the last few years. And then of course, the biggest thanks to my wife Celine, who I could not do this without. She made a big sacrifice. When we moved to Bancroft, she gave us he gave up a teaching job at Queen’s University. And there’s no University in Bancroft.
If you’ve not been here. So, that kind of job option’s not there, but we made it work, and I do all the things they can because I have Celine and my family supporting me. Just to touch on what Dr. Rapin was saying, why we moved to Bancroft. Literally was about 13 years ago, I saw an ad for a locum. I said to Celine, “Hey, you want to go to cottage for the summer? That sounds like fun. We’ll go for six weeks, and then we’ll go back to Kingston and carry on from there.” And then 13 years later, we’re 13 years later we’re still working in Bancroft, still basically doing the same job that I started doing when I got on the train.
Bancroft is a great little community to work in. It’s small, it’s got a hospital with a big group of doctors, and as Dr. Rapin said, I do feel like I can do everything that I was trained to do. I literally will have a day where I will see in-patients, go to my office, get a coroner’s case, and go work in the emergency department at night, and still have time to go home and eat. And that to me is just fantastic family medicine. I mean, I can’t ask for any more than that. Sometimes it’s a bit much, but I – we make it work, and I do feel I’ve been practicing to the fullest of my potential. The only thing we couldn’t do a Bancroft is deliver babies. That’s one thing I had to give up, but we – I made peace with that, so… When I was reflecting on this award and what it meant – (getting nervous thinking about talking to everyone here) – I did realize that, I think, part of the success for me keep doing what I’ve been doing is I’ve actually had learned to say “No” to certain jobs. Having kids has helped a lot learning to say “No”. If you can take that home and try that at work. It actually does work sometimes.
And I think also that to be successful in a small town, a small-town physician is that, you know, a confidence in your skills – you have to know when you can’t look after someone and when to call for help. But I think also it’s forced me to always push a little bit out of your comfort zone. Well, I remember, when I started working in the emergency department, I was experiencing – a lot of doctors in the community were already – they said, “Call me if there’s a problem”. I now offer that to the new doctors that come in, well, “If you’re a bit overwhelmed, call me, I’ll come in whatever time”. That’s the support that we need. And picking up extra emerg shifts, I’m happy – glad to say we’ve never had our emergency department closed for 12 years I’ve been in Bancroft. We’ve come really close a couple times but we’ve always found some way to keep it open. And that’s something that I’m proud of myself and the doctor we recruited to just keep working as a team, and if you do have to push yourself sometimes just a little bit more, sometimes take on that extra shift. And I think that the town appreciates what we do. That’s very clear.
The girls think I’m kind of like famous in town because we can’t seem to go grocery shopping without someone saying, “Hi, Dr. Griffin or Hi”, but – It’s, it’s true in a small town, you get to know, sort of, everyone, pretty quickly when you work since you’re working the emergency department. So again, I just want to say again, thank you to the College and CPSO (College is the CPSO) and the Council for this award. I appreciate it very much. I am going to take this award as a challenge actually. And the reason this award is a challenge is because, when I was explaining this award to my daughters, I said, “well, there’s – every year they take four doctors and they’re the council award winners”. So, they said, “Oh, so you’re the fourth best doctor in Ontario”. So, I will do my best to try to move up the rankings. Thank you very much.