Dr. Ruth Vander Stelt, a member of the Baha’i Community of Gatineau, Quebec, has been named one of Canada’s Family Physicians of the Year for 2010 by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC).
Since 1972, the CFPC has honoured family physicians—one from each Canadian province—who exemplify the guiding principles of family medicine by providing exceptional personal care to their patients, sharing their knowledge and insights with their colleagues and with physicians in training, and giving back to their communities.
The College recognized Dr. Vander Stelt’s work as a compassionate and dedicated family doctor, medical administrator and advocate for improved access to primary care at the local, provincial and federal levels. In particular, she was acknowledged for her efforts to help “orphan patients”, a term used to describe people who do not have access to a family doctor.
Orphan patients often fall through the cracks in the health care system. Dr. Vander Stelt successfully spearheaded the creation of a transitional clinic where these patients receive full health care until they are assigned a specific family physician.
“Many orphan patients use hospital emergency wards,” said Dr. Vander Stelt, “which is both costly and not the best environment to deal with the multiple medical problems not uncommon with this type of patient. Our program categorizes patients and prioritizes care to ensure those who need it most get it first. If patients cannot be matched immediately with a family physician, they are sent to the transitional clinic, where the doctors involved provide full care until such time that they are matched with a definitive physician.”
The transitional care clinic also received an award for excellence in healthcare innovation from the Government of Quebec. This award included a prize of $10,000.
“The Baha’i Faith has a major influence on my approach to medicine,” said Dr. Vander Stelt. “When I became a member of the Baha’i community 18 years ago, I was inspired by the principle of the unity of humankind, which implies justice for all, gender and racial equality and the elimination of poverty. These principles can inspire anyone’s career, but for someone in medicine it is critical to work for poverty reduction. One way to do that is to make health programs more accessible to all.
“I think it is up to those working in the healthcare field to improve the system. As a client, you know what you want but you don’t know how to make it happen. It’s up to those in the system to make it better. As a doctor and a Baha’i, I think a key to this may be a spirit of service.
“The Baha’i writings say that work done in a spirit of service is a form of worship. I love my job because it gives me opportunities to serve and then it’s not really work at all!”
Dr. Vander Stelt is a graduate of Laval University. Since 1995 she has been practicing family medicine at the Centre de Santé et de Services Sociaux du Pontiac where she is currently Head of the Department of General Medicine as well as the medical coordinator for orphan patients. Her scope of practice also includes emergency medicine, hospitalization, home care, as well as an office practice. An Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa and McGill University, Ruth also teaches an innovative course in medical administration at the new Gatineau health campus.
She and her husband, Patrick Marshall, keep busy with their three children, Sara Jane, Nicolas, and Nathan.
“Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, stated that ‘The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.’ I try to weigh what I am doing against this ideal, and ask if it actually contributes to a better system. If the answer is yes, keep doing it.
“If everyone could do this in their own field we would have a better world.”