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Who We Are: Dr. Fionella Crombie

“I was always a feminist and that work on behalf of women, it just wasn’t getting done”

Voice for change marks a decorated medical career

Dr. Fionnella Crombie was never one to duck the tough jobs.

While making rounds in hospitals in Halifax, N.S., she saw sexual assault victims being treated in the chaos of ER:

“The doctors who dealt with them were usually men. Women described that as another form of assault,” she says. “We had to reach doctors as well as police.”

Reach out she did – working with police, lawyers and others to develop a forensic sexual assault kit to be used in Halifax hospitals. She also started a hospital rotation of on-call female physicians to be called when a sexual assault survivor needed an examination and followed up with public appearances, research papers and professional workshops.

Fionnella graduated from the University of Toronto medical school in 1980, completing her residency at Dalhousie University in 1982 and taking a faculty position there.

Joining McMaster University as an academic physician in 1988, she found another cause for concern:

“Family doctors were losing authority over our patients in hospital. We were at risk of being kept out of hospitals entirely,” she says.

In smaller centres, doctors still take responsibility for admitting their patients to hospital and assume a leading role in their care, but it’s not a given in cities like Hamilton.

She developed the Service of Obstetrics in the Department of Family Medicine at St Joseph’s Hospital, ensuring that family physicians providing low risk obstetrical care reported to a senior-level family doctor rather than an obstetrician.

“In obstetrics and new born care family doctors can continue to be the most responsible physicians. I wanted that for them. ”

Top doctor

For more than 25 years, Fionnella has enjoyed a busy practice at Southwest Family Health Centre on James Street South, working with family medicine residents and tutoring in the mental health and behavioural science program of the Department of Family Medicine.

She has loved teaching.

In 2005 she was named Family Physician of the Year, Southern Region, by the Ontario College of Family Physicians. She served as Chief of Family Medicine for St. Joseph’s Healthcare System from 2004 to 2013 and now enjoys devoting herself to her practice – and more time with her husband of 29 years.

“I love the chance to really focus on my patients,” she says.

How does she regard the other contributions?

“I did what I could,” she says.

    • McMaster University Department of Family Medicine
    • David Braley Health Sciences Centre
    • 100 Main Street West, 6th Floor
    • Hamilton, ON L8P 1H6
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