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La Ronge rural family physician Dr. Sean Groves named 2019 SMA Physician of the Year

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Sean Groves of La Ronge as 2019 Physician of the Year.

The award was presented during the SMA’s 2019 Spring Representative Assembly on Friday evening, May 3, 2019, at the Sheraton Cavalier in Saskatoon.

“It definitely was a surprise, it’s humbling,” Dr. Groves told the SMA on being named the recipient of the award. “I don’t really see it as an individual thing. I work in an excellent group practice. I have huge support professionally and personally, and I think of the award more as recognition of work in a rural community and rural medicine and the opportunities that that type of setting provides for me.”

Dr. Groves was born in Innisfail, Alta., and raised in Saskatoon. He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine in 2003, and did his rural family medicine residency in Prince Albert. He arrived in La Ronge with his wife and family in 2005.

“We just thought I’d come up for a while, but it wasn’t very long before we realized this was the place we wanted to raise our family and have our kids. We had a young family when we moved here. It didn’t take long before we were committed to the long haul regardless of the challenges,” Dr. Groves said.

“When I went through medicine I wasn’t thinking about this life, but I caught the rural medicine bug pretty early.”

Dr. Groves created and has led the development of the La Ronge rural family medicine training program since 2011. This program has evolved into resident-run clinics in a number of remote northern locations. He has been student and resident coordinator at the La Ronge Medical Clinic since coming to La Ronge.

Dr. Groves is “a dedicated teacher,” one of his nominators wrote in a letter supporting his nomination. “It is amazing to watch him always find time for one-on-one teaching in the midst of a busy work day and his love for both his community and the medical profession is clearly reflected when he does so.”

In 2014, Dr. Groves became the lead physician for the La Ronge Opioid Agonist Therapy Program, which has expanded under his watch to serve people in remote communities. He has also helped to advance HIV and HCV testing in La Ronge and area.

“He is an active and well-respected leader in our community,” a colleague wrote in a supporting letter. “His longevity and commitment to the people in northern Saskatchewan has enabled him to build relationships of trust in the different communities he serves. He exhibits cultural sensitivity and an exemplary understanding of the complex health-care needs facing our First Nations and northern population.”

Dr. Groves, his wife Beckie, and their four children – now teens – have immersed themselves into the fabric of their community. Dr. Groves has been lead physician for the La Ronge Ice Wolves Junior A hockey team since 2010. He has coached a number of La Ronge minor hockey and baseball teams and plays rec hockey and slowpitch. One of his nominators wrote “I have never encountered a colleague so intricately involved in the wellbeing of the community in general, more specifically enhancing medical, mental health, social and addictions care for the vulnerable, marginalized and aboriginal communities. He engages and embraces people’s needs with empathy and vigour.”

As for being a leader, Dr. Groves simply says he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

“Maybe that’s what they mean when they say leader,” he adds. “Working in La Ronge, with our practice model, we have an opportunity to do a lot of innovative things. We’re not constrained by some of the things that other physicians might be constrained by in terms of group dynamics, payment models, things like that. That definitely lends itself to being able to try to think outside the box and do things that are unique or innovative, and make sense for patient care.”

A resident in the La Ronge family medicine program sums up the influence Dr. Groves has had on his life. The resident – who moved to the northern Saskatchewan town from Ottawa two years ago – expected to acquire basic skills during his two years in La Ronge, enjoy the outdoors and move on. What he didn’t expect was to understand on a deeper level how a rural physician can be an agent for change in improving the health of an entire community. He writes:

“For me, loving where I work has become so much more than a simple affection for my job and my lifestyle. Loving where I work is the commitment to making my community a healthier, happier place to live for everyone who calls the north home. I learned that love from Sean Groves.”

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