Yellowknife’s Dr David Pontin has been named one of Canada’s 2022 Family Physicians of the Year, marking the first time an NWT physician has received the award.
The award is bestowed by the College of Family Physicians of Canada annually on one doctor from each province or territory, but the Northwest Territories has never had a winner until now.
“I was shocked, I had no inkling whatsoever that this was coming,” said Pontin, who accepted the award over the weekend at a ceremony in Toronto. Pontin works in family medicine now, but was formerly an emergency room physician at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
“It’s a nomination that comes from 10 of your peers – to be nominated by my peers in this was deeply moving and I’m incredibly grateful,” he said.
Pontin added while he may have won the award this year, it could have gone to many of the doctors he works with each day.
“There’s an absolutely extraordinary group of people in our healthcare system … that are truly at the top of their professions across the country,” he said, adding a small healthcare system only works if the doctors, nurses, and other staff are very good at what they do.
“I hope this [award] keeps going, I hope the College will continue to look north to the excellence in family medicine up here,” he said.
While Pontin hasn’t seen his nomination, he suspects a large part of why he received this award is due to his role helping get the NWT’s Family Medicine Residency Program off the ground.
Pontin started working on the northern residency program in 2008, a year after he moved to Yellowknife. It took some time, but the program finally launched in 2020.
He also co-founded the Peer (which stands for patients, experience, evidence, and research) North conference in Yellowknife in 2022, a culturally relevant Northern conference which focuses on evidence-based primary care. The second Peer North conference is already scheduled for 2023.
Pontin also said being in the North allows for more room for innovation and creativity in its programs than bigger systems have, which he believes also contributed to his win.
“We’re not on the edge, we’re on the cutting edge,” he said, noting other medical schools are using the NWT’s residency program as an example of how to increase cultural safety for patients through on-the-land training for staff, embedding doctors in the residency program in small communities, and a possible Elder mentorship program.
He added residents are also investigating planetary health – the intersection of climate change and health – “fairly vigorously” to see how health is impacted by climate-related events like forest fires, floods, and animal migration and food security.
Lastly, he said the NWT is finding innovative ways to provide care closer to home virtually, and is currently experimenting with different ways of doing that.