I began my academic career at the University of Montreal in 2000, held a Canada Research Chair at the University of Sherbrooke from 2005 to 2009, and am currently a full professor in the McGill Department of Family Medicine, where I have worked since 2010. I hold an endowed research chair in family and community medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal, where I am also Scientific Director of the Research Centre. I am also Scientific Director of the McGill Primary Health Care Research Network and was founding director of the Quebec knowledge network Réseau-1 Québec.
Being named Family Medicine Researcher of the Year by the CFPC evokes humble reflection in me and grateful acknowledgement of all who contributed to this honour. I want to thank the community of primary care clinicians and researchers who made a place for me to learn about family medicine and health service delivery from the inside. My entry to the world of family medicine began just after I graduated with my master of science in epidemiology and biostatistics, when my supervisor, Dr. Walter Spitzer, referred to me a request to find funding for the Department of Family Medicine to coach Costa Rican colleagues in the establishment of a new family medicine residency program. I successfully obtained funding and Dr. Bill Davis, then Chair of the department, facilitated an intensive exposure to family medicine and residency training to prepare me for coordinating efforts in Costa Rica. I had the privilege of directly observing clinical encounters, resident supervision, administrative meetings, and certification examinations; I was even given architectural guidelines for appropriate teaching and clinical spaces. I am grateful for the generosity of family physician colleagues who welcomed me as an equal, as my exposure to the clinical realities of family medicine has been very influential throughout my career.
I did my doctoral work on the relationship between individuals’ performance on medical licensing examinations and subsequent patterns in family practice as indicated by medical billings from three cohorts of family physician graduates. (Yes, there is a relationship between scores on preventive medicine and screening mammography referral rates, and the relationship gets stronger over time!) The variable that was most predictive was a proxy variable for continuity of care. My interest in continuity of care coincided with this being identified as a priority for health services research in Canada. However, it was also obvious from initial project funding rounds that there was no common understanding of continuity of care. My postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Raynald Pineault, connected me with funding for an interdisciplinary literature review to propose a common definition and overview of measures. This led to a publication in The BMJ that has now been cited more than 1,000 times and became the basis for subsequent research on continuity of care.
At the beginning of the 2000s I focused my research on the patient experience of care in response to the need for more clarity about meaningful measures to evaluate the massive investments in primary health care renewal initiatives. It became my mission to portray the patient or public voice in a robust and meaningful way. I am grateful to the many people who generously shared their experiences and perspectives, through interviews and in surveys, to help me and others find out how best to determine what their domain of expertise encompasses and how to express it.
It would be foolish in this space to try to name all the mentors and colleagues to whom I owe so much for my fulfilling research career. The primary care research community in North America survives and thrives as a gift economy, built on the generous sharing of ideas that often leads to successful collaborations and deep friendships. I appreciate the talent, tenacity, and passion of my research assistants and staff; without them, research proposals are only proposals.
Finally, and mostly importantly, I humbly acknowledge those who have supported me over many years, often believing in me more than I believed in myself. My community of faith is a source of strength and has helped me approach my work as a vocation rather than a career. My parents were both mavericks who took on great challenges for a greater cause and provided a daunting example of vocation. My sons, Christopher and Mateo, provide a continual reality check about what really matters. Finally, my artist husband, Peter Aitkens, proves consistently (P < 0.05) in countless N-of-one trials how much love, faithfulness, and beauty contribute to both research success and a good life.
Family Medicine Researcher of the Year Award
This award recognizes a member of the CFPC who is a family medicine researcher who has made original contributions to building research and knowledge for family medicine in Canada. The contribution may encompass any aspect of family medicine research, from clinical, to health services, to education.
This award has been designed to honour a family medicine researcher who has been a pivotal force in the definition, development, and dissemination of concepts central to the discipline of family medicine.