Spotlight on Dr. Donald Chan

Dr. Donald Chan is a community preceptor with the Department of Family Medicine at the Pallisades Medical Clinic, one of the recipient clinics of the department's Urban Clerkship of the Year Award for 2020-2021

Danica Erickson - 13 December 2021

Tell us about yourself, Dr. Chan

I was born in Alberta, but I grew up in Manitoba. I did my B.Sc. and then a M.Sc. degree in medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba. I attended the University of Calgary for my undergraduate medical degree and did my family medicine residency at the University of Alberta.

How long have you been teaching and how did you get started?

I’ve been practicing since 1989 and at the Palisades Medical Clinic since we opened in 1994.  We started taking learners in about 2007 or 2009.

I know there is always a need for community preceptors, so when the Faculty approached me about it, I thought it would be a good thing to do.

Do you teach residents, medical students or both?

I take students for the year one to four LCE, and years three and four clerks for their urban family medicine rotations. I do accept elective students as well. I’ve also had one or two residents, but they were all from out of province.

What do you think is the most important thing you teach or model for learners in the clinic?

Medicine has become very technical, and I think what we can offer the students is a reminder that the person in front of you is a human being, and that human beings come with all kinds of psychosocial history and needs. You can’t treat a person like a checklist. In modern day medicine, we tend to have checklists for everything: did they do this, did they do that, did they do this or that screening?  We sometimes forget to talk to the patient and I think I am in a good position to teach medical students to understand what it means to have a long-term relationship with patients. 

Tell us about your favourite teaching memory?

I have a lot of teaching memories, but one thing that always strikes me as funny is the impression people have that as family doctors, we see only sore throats and earaches. I don’t know why this perception is so pervasive. We used to get two LCE students at a time, and I remember there was a year when I had two students who were reviewing a very interesting patient case with me. We were walking through the history and the symptoms and the differential diagnoses, and I remember that one of the students got so enthusiastic, he just burst out with  “This is just like on House!”. I think this was the first time that he had the revelation that we actually do see some interesting pathology cases and complex patients. That’s a funny, memorable moment. Situations like that remind us that we do a lot more than people realize. 

It’s also very rewarding when we see students graduate and become family doctors. Some of them become specialists and they often write nice comments on consult letters reminding us they were a student with us years ago, and to just call them if we need anything. It’s nice to know that a relationship built many years ago hasn’t been forgotten.

What keeps you motivated in challenging times like these?

For me, it’s still the opportunity to help guide new learners along and make sure they’re grounded. The students get overwhelmed sometimes in the demands of medical education and the complexities of the health system, so it’s really important to let them know that it is okay to feel a little lost at times.  Helping the students understand the learning process and how to adapt during their medical education journey is important for their future success.

Working with medical students who are in the early part of their education while some of us are near the end of our careers - but still learning - really keeps us on our toes. It’s a reminder to remember the basics and not forget where we started out from in our careers. The students keep us young. 

I also think it’s important to keep these students, and ourselves, grounded. We have to realize there are many influences in our community that we don’t have any control over. I think for many physicians in the community that eventually have the epiphany that you can’t control everything, life gets much better. Some people get that epiphany early on and others don’t get it until much later. This is what makes us all unique and interesting: we’re all different. We’re not made from the same cookie cutter and we’re not robots. 

What would you like to tell people about teaching students or being in the family medicine profession?

We need to really promote that family medicine does much more than people think. This needs to be promoted to our patients and colleagues alike. We in the family medicine world really are underappreciated. We have done a better job of promoting family medicine as a specialty in the last few years, and I think that effort needs to continue. This is where we have an opportunity for our students to learn how comprehensive and challenging family medicine really is. If you want a very challenging career, family medicine is where you want to be. The beauty of family medicine is that you can get a really good balance between personal and  professional life. The challenges are there in family medicine all the time; you keep learning until you retire.