Dr. Keith MacLellan

IMG_4517Dr. Keith MacLellan has been working in the Pontiac for 36 years. He’s been honoured with an appointment to the Order of Canada.

The Bristol home at the end of a long laneway is where he has lived since the 1980s. He estimates the house was originally built in the late 1800s, but renovated through the many years.

“The Governor General’s office called the first week in December to inform me and I was told not to say anything until the twenty-sixth. I asked permission to tell my wife, Donna,” laughed Dr. MacLellan. “I was very surprised.”

It’s been 48 years since Queen Elizabeth II established the Order of Canada and ‘recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.’ Over that time, more than 6,000 Canadians have been invested into the Order.

On December 26th, Governor General David Johnson’s announcement of 95 appointments to the Order of Canada was made public. The Order is one of the highest civilian honours in the country.

To be considered for the Order, the people must be nominated, and that in turn is reviewed by the Chancellery of Honours before a decision is made. Dr. MacLellan has a feeling there were a number of people involved in his nomination, but can’t say for sure.

The Order classifies his appointment, ‘For his contributions to advancing rural medicine in Canada as a small-town family physician and as a driving force behind the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.’

“I am one of the co-founders of the Society,” said Dr.MacLellan, which he started working on back in 1993. “Doctors need to be continually educated and learn new things, so they go to courses to do that. There weren’t a lot of courses for the type of medicine that rural and remote doctors do, because they are a very different breed.”

The ‘different breed’ term comes from the fact these doctors cover a lot of ground. They take care of sick children where pediatricians would do the work in the city. They deliver babies which, would be done by obstetricians, or looking after heart attacks like cardiologists and setting broken bones like orthopedic surgeons. The list goes on.

“I started a national conference on rural and remote medicine in Montreal with McGill University,” said Dr. MacLellan. “I had no idea if it would work or not, but doctors came from all over from rural Canada to the conference and now we have it every year, in different places across the country.”

Now with over 1,000 members in the Society, it was founded to do two other things, along with the education aspect. First, was to give advocacy for equitable healthcare in rural communities and secondly, was to have sustainable working conditions for doctors who do their duties in those rural and remote areas.

“The policy and advocacy really took off. A lot of presentations were made to the provincial and federal government and work in the medical and political field to try to affect policies that would be rural-friendly, both for the doctors and for the population. So, it kind of snowballed.”

The national headquarters for the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada can actually be found on Main Street in Shawville. “Rural doctors anyway, know where Shawville is and they think our hospital here is the best.”

Pontiac Life

Dr. MacLellan arrived to the Pontiac in late 1978. “I graduated from McGill in 1977, I went to Newfoundland for a year and a half and then I came here.”

Dr. MacLellan had gone to medical school when he turned 26, even though he had accumulated backgrounds in history and biochemistry. “I got accepted to medical school and it allowed me to study for another four years. I just liked hanging around the classroom,” he laughed.

After his stint in Newfoundland, he found himself working on a friend’s farm doing fall plowing near Wakefield. After inquiring with the Wakefield hospital, he found out Shawville was looking for a doctor. “It was probably fate of some sort, it’s not like I wanted it to be like that, but it just sort of happened.”

He was officially announced as a doctor for the hospital in Shawville in January 1979. He brushed off the idea the Order was also for his day-to-day work as a physician. “There’s a ton of family physicians that deserve lots of accolades for being good doctors in rural areas. Even around here you have someone like Dr. Earle Potvin, who’s amazing for what he’s done for this area. He’s the reason I stayed here.”

Dr. MacLellan considers Dr. Potvin an inspiration. Dr.Potvin was a General Surgeon, but he did a lot of speciality surgeries too, taking in years of surgical training in the city, as he realized and responded to the needs of the community.

Dr. MacLellan took the inspiration of answering the area’s call with pacemakers, as one example. “We would lose people to heart blocks and couldn’t put in pacemakers, I would go back to Montreal and learn how to do pacemakers then come back here and do it. You learn what your community needs are and do that training. That’s why the hospital has so many services and a lot of care you couldn’t get in other rural areas. In Shawville, there’s been a tradition of responding to the needs of the community, going out getting the training and coming back and giving it locally. That’s very nice.”

He hopes doctors who respond to the needs of rural populations will continue into the future. Even with the fuss surrounding the Quebec Government’s proposed Bill 10 on health-care changes.

“The devil will be in the details. I’m pretty much in favour of cutting costs if you can cut costs, I don’t like to see services cut. They said they plan to take away the hospital board, which is kind of scary because that’s local representation. I think what the Minister needs to preserve is broadly skilled doctors who do a lot of different things, who respond to the needs of population. If the Minister keeps that and that’s what they want, then I think we will do well. I don’t know if that’s what’s going to happen or not.”

Dr. MacLellan will be formally awarded the Order of Canada during a ceremony sometime this year.

“I couldn’t have done this or got this award without the people of the Pontiac and my colleagues and the hospital administration,” he said. “I really do think this award is something for the Pontiac, that’s the exciting part. We need some good news. The area should be proud of itself. It’s even nice to see the name Bristol listed.”

Dr. MacLellan has three children from a first marriage, while his wife, Donna Ager, has two. She is a classical singer in Ottawa, at the National Art Centre, and with an ensemble called Seventeen Voyces also, among other performances and stints in the city.

Dr. MacLellan doesn’t plan to officially retire anytime soon. During the winter, you can also find him at the curling rink in Shawville.

By: Scott Campbell