Going the distance: Corner Brook woman driving 120 km for family doctor

A Corner Brook woman is pleased to have finally found a family physician, after going more than a year without one — but what’s not ideal is the hour and a half drive, one way, for every appointment.

“Unless you’re in a situation where you don’t have a doctor, you don’t understand,” said Dawn Duffy.

Duffy’s previous family doctor retired in early 2015 and she’s been scouring to find another one ever since, checking with doctor’s offices in Corner Brook and even calling nearby towns like Pasadena and Stephenville.

When new physicians set up practice in the city in March, she spent hours on the phone trying to get through and be accepted as a patient, but to no avail.

In the end, Duffy said she felt having a family doctor was important enough to drive 124 kilometres over hills and winding roads to Norris Point, to see an available physician.

Although she understands why some people wouldn’t see that as a good solution, she said they haven’t been in her shoes.


It’s about an hour and a half drive between Corner Brook and Norris Point when the weather and roads are clear. (Google Maps)

Western Health has nine vacant family physician postings for Corner Brook on its website, and said efforts to find more physicians for the region are ongoing.

Long waits, lots of stress

Duffy credits part of her eagerness to drive for a family doctor is due to her 16-year-old daughter, Taylor, who has juvenile arthritis which, while not flaring up right now, still requires checkups.

‘You’re getting a doctor that knows nothing about you.’
– Dawn Duffy, on having to visit ER for routine matters

“I’m thankful she’s in remission right now, but she still needs to get checked on a regular basis just to make sure it’s not reoccurring,” she said.

“So it was important for us to have a regular doctor to kind of keep up with it.”

Before that, even for routine matters, she and her two daughters had to visit the emergency room in Corner Brook, where the long waits to see a doctor at the outpatient clinic sometimes lasted for hours.

Duffy said that was stressful and not the best way to get medical care.

“You’re getting a doctor that knows nothing about you. You’re having to explain everything about you in 10 minutes and there’s no way that you can get the proper care that you need, because they don’t know anything about you, other than what you can blurt out in the fastest time possible,” she said.

Dawn Duffy and daughter Taylor

Taylor Duffy, left, has juvenile arthritis, which requires regular checkups. (Submitted)

An unsurprising situation

What’s interesting to Duffy is that the doctor’s office in Norris Point didn’t seem to think it was unusual for someone to come all the way from Corner Brook for a checkup.

“Sadly she wasn’t that surprised,” she said. “Everyone’s really aware of the situation and I think they’re just expecting it.”

Duffy’s challenge now is all the extra time it takes to get to and from a doctor’s appointment, compared to someone who has a doctor in the same town.

She said she had to take a day off work in late September just to go to her first appointment.

“It’s an hour and a half there, you’re waiting around until your appointment time, and then you have to drive back,”
she said, admitting it’s not ideal.

“I’m happy because I have a family doctor now who will know my family history whenever I go to see him. Hopefully the weather stays decent so going back and forth is not going to be a big deal, but it is a bit of an inconvenience.”

Despite securing a family doctor, she said she’ll keep looking for someone close to home.

“Until that comes up, I’ll just keep going where I have to.”

Western Health said it doesn’t keep a wait list of people who don’t have a family physician, so it doesn’t know how many people are in a situation like Duffy’s.

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