Medicine’s Power Couple
Council Award Recipients: Drs. Stephanie & Stephen Milone
By Mark Sampson
Some married couples do almost everything together, and then there’s Drs. Stephen and Stephanie Milone.
The husband and wife team have been pretty much inseparable since they met in 1998 while medical students together at the University of Toronto. They both graduated with their degrees in 2002. They both did their postgraduate family medicine residency at Queen’s University, finishing in 2004. Since 2006, they have both worked as family physicians at the Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, and they play other roles there as well – Stephen is an anesthetist and Stephanie is a past chief of the ER department. They also both have active teaching responsibilities at the hospital for medical students and family medicine residents. Since 2009, they’ve been the Orangeville co-site-directors of the U of T’s family medicine rural residency program.
There’s more. They are both rostered physicians with the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company. They have co-authored medical research together. In 2015-16, they took a year-long sabbatical to practise family medicine and train local doctors at a Christian mission hospital in a remote part of Northern India. Through it all, they are also raising three children together, balancing overachieving medical careers with a busy family life.
Drs. Milone have also won awards together – lots of awards. These include the 2010 Ontario College of Family Physicians Community Preceptor of the Year, the 2011 Rural Ontario Medical Program Family Physician Preceptor of the Year, the 2014 Family Physician of the Year Award from the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the 2017 Dr. David Scott Award. Now, they can add the CPSO Council Award to their growing list of honours. Drs. Milone both typify our very notion of the ideal doctor. As nominator Dr. Anna Davenport wrote in her letter to us: “Stephen and Stephanie are exemplary physicians. They stand out in their ability to use their family medicine education to affect the lives of so many but not limited to the confines of the office or hospital. They see the potential of medicine as a way to embrace diversity on many levels and share their experience with such grace.”
We recently caught up with Drs. Milone to talk about their careers, their family life, and how they balance it all. We also have a video of their remarks 🎥 when they accepted the award at the September meeting of Council.
Were you always interested in medicine?
Stephanie: My parents have a video of me at four years old, pretending to be a doctor. I think it was probably a little surprising that I was so interested in medicine, even then, because it’s mostly educators in my family, but the desire was there pretty much from the start. I was naturally drawn to sciences in school, and honestly, I never entertained the idea of doing anything else.
Stephen: My experience was a little bit different. My first interest was in human biology – this was around the middle of high school – which eventually led me to do a master’s degree. But I had a friend who wanted to become a physician, and he was very influential on me.
You met while medical students. Was it obvious from the start that you would form both a personal and professional partnership?
Stephen: Oh yes. Very early on at U of T, we realized we were compatible. We had the same values, the same goals, the same outlook on life. We were also both more mature students, with master’s degrees already, so that drew us together. We were a bit closer to seeing how life was going to be than maybe some of the other students.
Stephanie: It’s actually a funny story, kind of unbelievable, how we met. It was the first week of school, and we are in this huge class of 177 students together, just thrown into a big group of people who didn’t know each other. To break the ice, the prof had some decks of cards he shuffled together, and he dealt them out to the students and then told us, “Now go find your match.” And Stephen and I had the same card – sorry, we don’t even remember which one it was – but we were literally each other’s match. And it went from there.
Did you always know you were going to do family medicine?
Stephanie: Well, that’s the thing – you just never know. You just sort of go with it. I think obstetrics-gynecology was part of the plan for me, originally.
Stephen: For me, I was interested in cardiology at first.
Stephanie: But then something happened. The summer after second year, we were doing an elective, and we decided to do it in rural family medicine. So we moved out to this small town that nobody had ever heard of, called Walkerton, Ontario, to work with some rural family physicians there. And of course, the E. coli crisis started a week before we arrived. So we got an immediate sense of the range of work that comes with rural family medicine. We saw GPs doing emergency medicine, doing anesthesiology. There was such variety there.
We also happened to be paired with a physician couple, just like us. We could see from them just how it could be done in a rural practice. So after we finished, Steve and I just said to each other, I guess we’re going to be rural family doctors.
What are some of the unique advantages – and challenges – of being a husband-and-wife team working in the same profession?
Stephanie: The biggest advantage is that our patients get both of us. They get to know us both, and it’s a much more personal relationship. The challenge, of course, is trying to balance all this with our family life. In general, we never try to work at the same time, so someone is always here with the kids.
Stephen: That’s right. After our first was born, we organized our work weeks so that one of us is around our children every day. We want to make sure one of us is there for activities with the kids, and that still continues to this day. Part of it involves juggling shifts so we don’t clash or overlap. We try to minimize our reliance on other people for help, for giving the kids rides to things and such. The kids understand that our personal lives are a team effort; that’s all they’ve ever known.