Shirley Robertson was feeling a little off on the day she went to get her flu shot with her family doctor in North Vancouver.
Her doctor, Dr. Louise Corcoran, noticed it too and asked how Robertson was feeling.
“She could have just given me my flu shot and gone on to the next person,” said Robertson. “She took the time to treat me like a whole person.”
After asking some questions about her symptoms, Corcoran sent her patient to get some blood tests, just in case.
Shortly afterwards, “I got a phone call telling me to go to immediately to emergency,” said Robertson. “It turned out I’d had a heart attack.”
Women frequently present with different symptoms of heart attack than the classic ones seen in men, something Corcoran was well aware of.
“The cardiologist at the hospital said if I hadn’t come in when I did, I’d probably be dead,” said Robertson. “She actually saved my life.”
That kind of care and attention recently resulted in Corcoran being awarded one of five patient-nominated family doctor awards from the B.C. College of Family Physicians. Five family doctors were honoured from among 350 nominated across the province.
Corcoran - who grew up in Alberta and B.C. and received her medical degree in Dublin, Ireland before eventually returning to practice in B.C. in 2002 - was given the award for the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
Robertson, who nominated Corcoran for the award, said she was lucky to get in as a patient of Corcoran’s shortly after the family doctor opened her practice in North Vancouver in 2005. Her previous doctor had left, she said, and Corcoran agree to take on that doctor’s patients.
“She’s always upbeat and positive,” said Robertson. “She has this ability to make you think you’re the most important thing right at that moment, not just another appointment to get through. “She never makes me feel pressured or hurried.”
Robertson said unlike some doctors who limit the number of issues they will address in a single appointment, Corcoran does ask about general health concerns. “That’s kind of rare today because doctors are under so much pressure,” she said. “She doesn’t just push you out the door.”
Corcoran said she was shocked and honoured to receive the award.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” she said. “It speaks the loudest when a patient nominates you.”
Working in family medicine is incredibly fulfilling, she said, especially when she’s been able to care for several generations of the same family.
As frontline health workers who know their patients best and are usually the first to know if something is wrong, it also comes with a big responsibility. “The centre of family medicine is knowing people,” she said.
In Robertson’s case, “I knew as soon as she walked in the room that she didn’t look well.”
Corcoran admits to being worried that kind of care is being lost as more people have trouble even getting family doctors and those patients see at walk-in clinics likely don’t know them or their history.
Burn out is a challenge among family physicians, she said.
“I’ve had a few colleagues that have decided to change career.”
She gets asked all the time if she’s taking new patients, but there’s a limit to what one doctor can take on, she said. “Not being able to help them, that’s a challenge too.”