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.