Finding a family doctor can sometimes be like pulling teeth. And finding one with a bedside manner that goes above one’s expectations would certainly be a plus.
For Sidney resident Patrick McAdams, that’s exactly what he found in Dr. Christopher Dowler from Peninsula Medical in Sidney.
McAdams recently wrote a letter to the clinic and forwarded it on to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, effusive in his praise of Dowler during what was a very difficult time for his family. He shared the letter and his story with the Peninsula News Review, explaining that not all interactions with physicians are painful.
McAdams’ wife Linda died in November, 2017 and he said it’s taken him a while to heal from his loss and come to grips with the change in his life. What he realized, was that the treatment Linda received and the support he had from Dowler in the process, was exceptional.
But his path started in a similar fashion to many other people, who face not having a regular family doctor.
The McAdams moved into Sidney from North Saanich in 2016, along with his brother-in-law Peter Belair. He said his then-doctor retired and told them that a new physician would be taking over. However, McAdmas said they never saw the new doctor and were eventually left without one.
He said they felt abandoned.
“We are aware that there are a lot of seniors in Sidney who are stuck without a GP (general practitioner),” he said. “We had three months’ worth of pills and no doctor.”
While in the process of searching for a new doctor, McAdams said he had gone to a local lab and asked around. He was told about the new doctors accepting patients at Peninsula Medical.
“I walked as quickly as I could to this place.”
He needed a clinic — and a doctor — that would be able to meet his wife’s needs and those of his brother-in-law who has autism and was having back issues at the time. McAdams said they were introduced to Dowler and the doctor-patient relationship started off really well.
“This guy is young and hungry,” McAdams said of his reaction to the new doctor, adding he hopes Dowler never loses that desire to assist his patients that he feels some, older doctors have done.
Right off the bat, McAdams noted how Dowler seemed to offer genuine care for his wife and brother-in-law, taking the time and effort to work with them. His biggest example came in November last year when Linda visited Dowler. McAdams said Dowler looked at Linda and asked her what’s wrong. A few tests later and they were on their way to the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. After being admitted, Dowler came to the hospital room and walked them through the test results and conclusions. By the next morning, Linda had died. McAdams said their doctor was there with him and his wife the whole time.
He added Dowler also helped him break the news to Peter the next day.
“I was so impressed with this guy. I don’t know how to thank him … except to tell this story.”
While the entire experience was difficult, McAdams said it was good to know their doctor was there to support them. He said it changes his perception of who doctors are.
“It’s always nice to receive positive feedback; receiving feedback in such a public forum would be a first for me,” said Dowler, who has been a doctor for three years, having finished his residency in 2014.
Dowler said building relationships with patients is one of the many rewarding aspects of family medicine.
“It’s no different than building friendships, really. It just takes time, attention, and a real interest in people’s lives.”
Dowler said medical system and the doctor-patient relationship requires good, clear communication. He credited the staff at Peninsula Medical for helping him keep track of tests and procedures for hundreds of patients.
For doctors, as it is with families, working through the death of a loved one isn’t easy and requires good communication.
“Having these conversations with patients and loved ones is an important part of being a doctor” Dowler said. “It’s certainly one of the more difficult parts of being a doctor. Ensuring there’s an adequate amount of time to have the conversation, appropriate support people there is a good first starting point.
“It never gets easier; these are difficult conversations. Perhaps with time and experience, we get better at them, but it never gets easier.”
McAdams noted he had had questions about the health care system over the years and wondered at doctors’ motivations to do what they do. He said Sidney is as bad — or as good — as another other place in Canada, but he feels it’s getting better.
Dowler is a busy person, having just been the doctor-on-duty at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, which meant seeing patients without a family doctor for seven days.
“From the beginning of medical school until now, the number of hours I put in hasn’t changed all that much, to be honest.”
Dowler has a full-time family practice, and “probably spend an equal amount of time doing patients for my patients as I do actually seeing them in the office, so often times it’s north of 60 hours a week.”
“I chose this profession knowing I would be very busy, but … it’s a rewarding profession, particularly when patients acknowledge the hard work that you do.”
McAdams said this particular situation, while difficult for his family, is a good story, a caring story.
“It’s a tribute to someone who did the best he could for his patients.”