Q and A with Dr Jessica Kirkwood

Dr. Jessica Kirkwood joined the Department of Family Medicine team as Assistant Professor on September 1, 2019.

Jessica Kirkwood with Danica Erickson - 15 October 2019

Dr. Jessica Kirkwood joined the Department of Family Medicine team as Assistant Professor on September 1, 2019. Dr. Kirkwood's clinical practice will be at the Boyle McCauley Community Health Centre, and she will also work with Evidence-based Medicine / Patients. Experience. Evidence. Research (PEER) team. Here's a little bit about our newest team member….

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, go to school, etc.?

I grew up in Edmonton and Lethbridge before heading off to St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for my undergraduate degree. I played volleyball competitively for years but was a bit vertically challenged to join the incredibly successful program at the U of A, so I decided to venture out to the Maritimes! I had a wonderful experience playing varsity volleyball for four years and taking in all that our east coast has to offer. After I graduated, I missed home and returned to Edmonton for medical school and residency.

Was going into medicine always in your plans? If not, when and how did you decide on medicine, and family medicine in particular?

I grew up telling anyone that would listen that I wanted to be a primatologist because I thought Jane Goodall was the bee's knees, but I became interested in medicine around halfway through undergrad. Through various volunteering experiences I knew that I loved helping and working with people and after a summer of working in South Africa I figured I'd give the MCAT a shot. A short year later, I was celebrating my acceptance into the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta! My approach to the clinical years of med school was to see if any specialty could possibly appeal to me more than family medicine. A couple came close, but when it came time to apply for CaRMS I knew confidently that family medicine was for me. I had some excellent mentors and preceptors along the way and the happiest people I worked with were family doctors.

You will be working out of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, and have been involved in healthcare on some other more non-traditional healthcare settings. Can you tell us about that?

As a resident I had decided I was going to do primary care obstetrics after I graduated and I had an excellent opportunity to work with a fantastic group of docs on the south side of Edmonton. Right before I graduated I spent a month rotation at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre and my life was changed entirely. I had never met such incredible patients, demonstrating such resilience in the face of adversity. Each day was a new challenge and adventure and once my rotation was complete, I had to let my future colleagues know that my career plans had taken a sharp change. Upon graduating I told Dr. Mat Rose, the medical director at BMHC, that I would find locums until a position opened up. One of my locums was covering Dr. Tina Korownyk's maternity leave at the Northeast Community Health Centre! While I loved working and training at the NECHC, I was thrilled when a job opened up at BMHC a year after graduation. I have now been working there for almost eight years and I couldn't love my patients or my clinic more. I have also had the pleasure of working in various correctional settings, both provincially and federally. Being able to provide empathic, non-judgemental care to incarcerated patients has been some of the most rewarding work I've done.

What attracted you to working with the PEER/EBM team?

Dr. Korownyk was my faculty advisor in residency so I got to witness firsthand that she is an excellent physician, patient advocate and an academic that loves her work. Over the last few years I have been invited to speak at PEIP and work on their Simplified Guideline for Prescribing Medical Cannabinoids in Primary Care. I have always enjoyed collaborating with PEER and admired the quality of work they produce. In the last year I have paired with PEER, the ACFP and the Collaborative Mentorship Network to produce a 3-hour workshop on treating patients with Opioid Use Disorder. We have travelled all over the province to various towns and communities to help empower primary care teams to provide quality, evidence-based care for this population. At these workshops I was able to be paired with each of the PEER team members and I was amazed and inspired by each person's passion, knowledge and energy. It was an honour to be asked to join the team and I'm so excited to participate in more projects with this exceptional group on an ongoing basis.

What is your philosophy on life and health?

Be kind to yourself and be kind to each other. Whether that is choosing to fuel our bodies with healthy food or practice regular exercise or if it means to donate a portion of our spare time to those less fortunate, I think we can always strive for self-improvement. Eye contact and a smile can go a very long way - whether that is with a stranger on the street or with yourself in the bathroom mirror.