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Meet the new president of Doctors Nova Scotia: Dr. Leisha Hawker

Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) has a new president. Halifax family physician Dr. Leisha Hawker was sworn in as DNS’s new president at the association’s annual conference on Saturday, June 4.“I am passionate about health equity and improving the health-care system and the physician environment in Nova Scotia,” said Dr. Hawker.

She has been active in leadership roles DNS for several years, serving on the Board of Directors and as co-chair of the E-health Committee before being nominated for President.

“I have had extensive leadership training in my early career, and I believe I can be a strong voice for all physicians across the province,” Dr. Hawker said. She is a graduate of the association’s Physician Leadership Development Program and belongs to the sections of Physician Leadership and Indigenous Health.

She has also been active in leadership roles outside of DNS. She served as secretary/treasurer on the executive committee of the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians. She is actively engaged with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and did a term on the board of the CMA Foundation. She appeared before the Nova Scotia legislature in 2020 and 2022 to discuss issues facing physicians in the province.

Training and early practice
Dr. Hawker received her medical training in Halifax at Dalhousie Medical School. She completed her training in family medicine in 2013 and earned a certificate of added competence in addiction medicine in 2019.

During her first few years in practice, she worked in fly-in communities in the Northwest Territories and at the North End Community Health Centre (NECHC), a large collaborative health centre on Gottingen Street in Halifax. The clinic serves the entire community of north end Halifax, a historically marginalized, low socio-economic and culturally diverse population. This became her primary role.

“I’ve always had an interest in working with marginalized populations,” said Dr. Hawker. “My career has been focused on equity and social justice – I look at the patient from the perspective of the health of the community.”

Dr. Hawker also works at Regency Park Addiction Clinic, where she provides care to some of the most marginalized patients in Halifax, and the Halifax Newcomer Health Clinic, which provides primary care for refugees before transitioning them to a community family practice.

Perspectives and opportunities
As a female physician with a young family who is still early in her career, Dr. Hawker has a valuable perspective on the changing physician workforce and the challenges that physicians face with work-life integration. She sees technology as an area of opportunity.

“Over the past year we have seen a tremendous transformation in the way physicians practise. As co-chair of the association’s E-health Committee I have been working diligently to incorporate virtual care as a way for physicians to provide care. The ongoing pandemic, while challenging, is a growth opportunity and I hope to lead DNS through this critical time.”

Dr. Hawker says her work provides a clear view on the primary care access challenges facing patients and doctors, including succession planning and unattached patients. With physicians in her collaborative practice retiring, “There is nobody to quarterback the care for unattached patients,” said Dr. Hawker. Many of her patients ask if she can add a friend, a partner or an extended family member to her roster.

But doing that comes at a cost, she said. Her wait time for a non-urgent visit is now six weeks, when ideally it would be less than two weeks.

“I want to help everyone, but I must respect my own patients,” said Dr. Hawker. “Everyone is taking on more work, but with an aging, sicker population, patients require more time because their issues are typically quite complex.” She hopes to work with partner organizations to improve the province’s physician recruitment and retention challenges.

Other interests and awards
Dr. Hawker’s other interests include gender-affirming care, medical assistance in dying, decriminalizing drugs and harm reduction. She mentors physicians working with patients with substance use disorders through the Atlantic Mentorship Network – Pain and Addiction. Her work has been recognized by the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians, which awarded her the Award of Excellence in 2016, and by Doctors Nova Scotia, which awarded her the Dr. William Grigor Award in 2015. The Medical Post named her one of the Top 20 Physicians to Watch in 2015.

When not working, Dr. Hawker spends time with her husband and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. In her limited spare time, she enjoys hockey, hiking and sailing.

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