Ten years ago, along a road traveled in family medicine and with a fresh residency completed in surgery, Dr. Martin Stewart did what many people in Port Perry would have thought impossible; he replaced the revered Dr. Bill Cohoon, a much loved, respected, and admired doctor/surgeon.
It is difficult to replace an icon but Dr. Stewart has done so admirably, bringing to his position as a physician/surgeon at the Port Perry Medical Centre, a unique set of skills and expertise, and most of all, a passion for his work and his patients.
The road to Port Perry started for Dr. Stewart in Peterborough where he is initially from. He studied Family Medicine at Queens University and did his graduate work at the University of Toronto.
It was as a resident there in 1991 that Dr. Stewart got his first introduction to Port Perry by taking a rural elective and working at the Medical Associates for two months.
He recalls, "I loved the experience. I was in awe of Dr. Cohoon and something in me just resonated with the whole way medicine was practiced in this town. The integrated way the staff and physicians worked was very attractive to me."
After graduating, Dr. Stewart went on to Oakville to practice medicine for the next eight years but he kept in contact with some of the doctors from Port Perry.
In 1998, after struggling with a decision as to whether to stay in family medicine or become a surgeon, Dr. Stewart decided to go back to school and specialize in surgery.
During his four years retraining in surgery Dr. Stewart again took an elective and came to Port Perry for one month, and found he enjoyed doing general surgery in familiar surroundings. He remembers, "It was great to reconnect with the Port Perry group of doctors. I loved the experience of general surgery and I particularly liked working with Bill Cohoon again. I have to say that working with Bill was a career changing experience."
Dr. Stewart began to think that Port Perry would be a good place to practice surgery. "The completion of my training coincided with Dr. Cohoon's desire to retire," he said. "I liked the town, I liked the group of doctors I would be joining and I got very excited about practicing both family medicine and surgery in such an integrated, professional environment".
He continued, "I inherited Dr. Cohoon's patients and made what I think was a fairly smooth transition to family medicine and surgery in Port Perry."
Dr. Stewart's takeover of Dr. Cohoon's practice created a rare and rewarding situation for Dr. Stewart. Years ago, a doctor/surgeon mix was not unheard of. In this day and age of specialization and more finely tuned standards, it is unusual to find a surgeon who also functions as a family doctor.
Dr. Stewart explained, "In the beginning it was a necessity. Having Dr. Cohoon's family medicine patients was a good balance for me; it was a way to cope with the intensity of surgery".
However, as time went by, he began to really appreciate the joy with the type of practice he had taken over and was building.
"It's uncommon for a surgeon to keep up a family practice and although mine is only about fifteen percent of my work I feel it is immensely important. It has taught me that you have to listen to people and I believe it has given me the best of both worlds," he says.
Dr. Stewart and his two surgical colleagues are general surgeons, all trained in all basic 'core surgical' procedures, including caesarean sections and some cancer surgery operations – mainly breast and colorectal cancer.
The fact that cancer surgery can be performed in Port Perry comes as a surprise to some patients, who presume once cancer has been detected, the patient will be transferred to the oncology department in Oshawa.
Dr. Stewart explains, "As a surgeon, and part of a three-hospital health unit, I work closely with colleagues in Oshawa to manage oncological patients. What is very special to me is that I can follow a patient of mine through some very difficult times because of the cancer surgeries they require – with certain kinds of cancer I can be with them every step of the way."
"We are lucky being in a smaller town. The breadth of surgical practice here in Port Perry is much greater and larger in scope than it would be if I was in a large city," he says.
Dr. Stewart cannot say enough good things about the incredible integration and collaboration that exists amongst the doctors and surgeons at the medical centre and the hospital.
When asked to talk a bit more about himself, he hesitates and says, "I feel much more comfortable talking about the job and the environment I work in. I do not think it is the norm to have the kind of inter-professional relationships that we have; the level of respect amongst the family doctors and specialists here is incredible.
He explained that they routinely assist each other on difficult surgical cases and there is a great deal of sharing. At the same time it is very respectful and professional.
Dr. Stewart strives to keep his life in balance. He and his wife Adrienne and four children value their time together and he really lights up when he talks about coaching his children in the various sports they play.
On a personal level he enjoys both golf and hockey and four years ago he began competing in triathlons. He tries to find the time to fit in as much as he possibly can, all the while enjoying all Port Perry has to offer.
When asked how he would describe himself, Dr. Stewart commented that he found it difficult to talk about himself, but after some resistance and urging, he said, "Well, I would like to think I am approachable. I like to do things well and would say I am driven and passionate; I hope in a good way."
On the subjects of patients and surgery Dr. Stewart was indeed passionate. He thrives on looking after people, seeing them through difficult times, listening to their concerns, finding solutions to problems.
Dr. Stewart thinks that being a family doctor has made him a better surgeon. "The balance of family doctor and surgeon has been very good for me. I appreciate the strong relationships it has brought me. I think it has matured me as a person and helped to shape me. All in all I feel it has made me more well rounded."
Although reticent to talk about himself and his accomplishments, Dr. Stewart was able to define what makes his work here so fulfilling.
By Marjorie Fleming
Focus on Scugog