Spotlight on Dr. Guy Blais

Dr. Guy Robert Blais is a U of A medical school alumnus, DoFM residency graduate, writer, book author, and former classmate of Research Program Director Dr. Donna Manca. He has been contributing to medical education for family physicians for many years.

Danica Erickson - 03 May 2021

Dr. Guy Robert Blais is a U of A medical school alumnus, DoFM residency graduate, writer, book author, and former classmate of Research Program Director Dr. Donna Manca. He has been contributing to medical education for family physicians for many years. We spoke with Dr. Blais about his long history of work with learners and with the department, and his thoughts about the impact community-based family docs have on medical students and family medicine residents.

How long have you been teaching with the Department of Family Medicine?

I've been teaching ever since I started my family medicine practice in July 1983.

Why did you start?

I’ve always had a passion for teaching; if I hadn’t become a doctor I would have become a teacher.  After medical school I began teaching medical students and family medicine residents. I consider carrying on the tradition of teaching family medicine and medicine to be a “positive” obligation; teaching students and residents is very eloquently stated in the Hippocratic Oath. I know it sounds a little old school, but  that’s what I believe. It also allows me to fulfill my dream of teaching and practicing family medicine.

Which learners do you take? 

I have taught undergraduate University of Alberta (U of A) medical students for the Longitudinal Clinical Experience (LCE) 1 and 2 program, this includes back when it was known as the Gilbert Scholars program. I’ve also taught third and fourth year U of A medical students during their urban family medicine block and family medicine electives. I’ve also taught medical students from other universities, including from St. Andrews in Scotland. 

Over the years I’ve also taught second year U of A family medicine residents in my own practice and during the annual Practice Management Seminar. This seminar was part of my responsibilities as the department’s practice management coordinator from December 2001 until 2018. 

I am proud to say that two of the past family medicine residents I taught are now my colleagues at the Ottewell Medical Clinic.  

Tell us about your favourite teaching memory?  

There are many but one really stands out.  It was included as one of the stories in my book Real Medicine, Alternative Hockey - If Only This Stethoscope Could Talk.  Titled The House Call (Her First), it’s the story of a house call I made with a medical student on a cold winter day in January of 2017. We’d gone to see a palliative care patient, and during the visit I was unexpectedly asked to see her husband who was my patient as well. He was actually sicker than his wife, with severe congestive heart failure. The student and I examined him and decided he needed to be treated at the emergency room.  My student looked up an app on her phone to let them know which ER had the shortest wait time and we arranged for him to go to that ER. 

This was her first house call. As we left the home she thanked me for this experience.  In my book I wrote:

 “As I drove away from the house I thought what she had thought about her first house call. Was it what she expected? Did it make her think how important it was to the patients and their care? Did it show her the importance of keeping this medical tradition alive? There were so many questions I could ask her about her experience. The one I would like the answer to was whether this event made her think more about becoming a family physician and that this would be the first of the many house calls she would make in her medical career. I certainly hope so. Only time will tell.”

I know she was trying to decide between family medicine and another specialty at the time. Many months later, after the CaRMS match that year, she emailed to say that she had selected family medicine residency because of that house call experience I gave her. That’s why it was one of my most favourite teaching memories.

What keeps you motivated to teach in challenging times like these? 

Stories like the house call story.  I also love to be part of the Teaching Tree for the medical students and family medicine residents I teach; knowing that some of what I taught them will make them a fine physicians providing excellent care to patients across Canada.

Working with students also keeps me young. The enthusiasm for medicine that they exude reminds me why I chose family medicine as a vocation. As well they keep you on your toes and challenge you to keep up to date. It also gives me a chance to encourage them to think about teaching others and write about their experiences as I have. As you know, the word doctor comes from the Latin words ‘to teach’.

We know you are a mentor to junior physicians in your practice. What advice do you give them?

There are few thoughts on advice. One day, when I was getting frustrated as a family medicine resident when patients over and over did not seem to be following the advice they were given, the late Dr. Robert Lefebvre said to me “Guy, we are only here to give advice; whether the patient takes it is up to them.” 

Another time, when I saw one of my young colleagues stretching herself too thin on one patient, she was reminded of what I had previously advised her: you can’t save everyone. She understood what I meant was that she needed to make sure she cared for own self mentally and physically so she could look after her own family and her other patients that needed her care just as much.

I’ve also reminded residents that once they have passed their Canadian College of Family Physicians (CCFP) exam and are out practicing, I am Guy to them, not Dr. Blais, because now we’re colleagues. Some mentors forget this, but I always let them know I’m there to help as they build their family medicine practice, and I’m not afraid to ask them for help if I need it. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I have always promoted Family Medicine and I am proud to be associated with the Department of Family Medicine at the U of A, whether it was sitting on various family medicine committees as a resident, continuing on as a representative over the years as an urban family medicine doctor, or promoting World Family Medicine Day as a guest on the Ryan Jespersen Show on CHED Radio in May 2018 and May 2019. 

I was proud to represent the U of A as the first U of A family medicine faculty member on the CCFP exam committee or at least the SOO exam committee (as writer of SOO #3) from about 2009 until 2018. I’ve also been an examiner for the CCFP examination for many years.

In the practice management sphere, I was credited and recognized alongside the department for a checklist we developed for family medicine residents preparing to enter practice. This was accepted by Joule, the practice management arm of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I’m currently one of the many writers across Canada for the CCFP Self Learning Program for continuing medical education and continuing professional development.

Finally, in of July 2010, I was humbled to have bestowed on me the honour of the title of Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine. This was awarded to me by then-chair Dr. Richard Spooner in recognition of my teaching at the U of A in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

- Guy Robert Blais