By Jessica Long
Dr. Gary Ernest has been a dedicated family physician in Liverpool for more than four decades. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to his patients, community and the broader health system in Nova Scotia. Despite running a thriving and busy practice, Dr. Ernest's hunger for growth and learning never wavers. He is currently pursuing an Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (EDBA) to contribute to health care transformation in the province and make a positive impact on the system.
Originally from Montreal, Quebec, Dr. Gary Ernest completed his undergraduate studies at McGill University. Though his journey toward becoming a doctor wasn't initially his ambition, the desire to pursue medicine was solidified during those years. He graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1980, completed his family medicine residency in 1982 and has been practicing in Liverpool ever since.
“I was always drawn to the idea of practicing medicine in a rural setting, where I could provide care to a diverse range of patients from all walks of life. Practicing in Liverpool offered the opportunity to be fully engaged in all aspects of my patients' well-being, from the very beginning of their lives to the very end,” explained Dr. Ernest.
Dr. Ernest has also held various roles at multiple health care organizations, including Doctors Nova Scotia, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Medical Association, and has served as chief of staff at his local hospital.
Recently, Dr. Ernest received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal, an honor that humbled him. While he says that he doesn’t expect recognition for his work, the medal serves as a heartwarming acknowledgement of his dedication and commitment to his patients, community and Nova Scotia physicians.
Being a family doctor in a rural area hasn’t been without its challenges. Dr. Ernest had to face the burden of long working hours, especially during the early years of his practice when he was involved in delivering babies, assisting major surgeries and attending to emergency cases in the hospital. Over the years, the landscape of family medicine changed, and Dr. Ernest has witnessed the transition from the front lines. He said that the shift in family medicine practice is leading to a more balanced and healthier lifestyle for physicians.
For medical students considering family medicine, Dr. Ernest advised them to choose a practice that aligns with their interests and to create a balanced approach to prevent burnout. He emphasized that family medicine offers a rewarding and satisfying career, but it's crucial to find a practice that suits one's preferences and values. He believes that the key to keeping the passion alive for family medicine lies in finding a practice that allows you to concentrate on areas that interest you.
“It's essential to have control over your work-life balance and ensure that you don't get burned out,” said Dr. Ernest.
But what Dr. Ernest has cherished most about being a family doctor has been the deep connection he has built with his patients.
“I’ve had the joy of knowing the patients so well that they became like an extended family, and it has been the most rewarding aspect of my career. It is a privilege to treat generations of families,” said Dr. Ernest.
More recently, Dr. Ernest found himself contemplating the next chapter of his life. Many of his colleagues are retiring, but he has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Instead, he enrolled in the EDBA program at Saint Mary’s University.
By obtaining this professional PhD, he aims to contribute to health care transformation, address challenges in the system and engage in consulting work to improve health care delivery and patient outcomes. Driven by his passion for helping others and his desire to positively influence the health care landscape, Dr. Ernest believes that his Ph.D. studies — paired with his diverse health care experience — will equip him with valuable insights and skills to create meaningful change in the province.
“The curriculum focuses on the practical application of concepts and research to solve complex management problems and emphasizes an evidence-based approach. It lends itself well to addressing the many challenges presented by the changing landscape of our health care system,” he said.
Dr. Ernest is now working three days a week in his practice and is gradually reducing his patient load to make it more manageable. Notably, he has retained every patient in his practice and remains steadfast in his decision not to add any of his patients to the Need a Family Practice Registry.
When asked about the biggest changes he has seen in the health care system, Dr. Ernest emphasized the issue of access to care.
“Many people are struggling to find primary care providers, leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment. Emergency room closures and staff shortages are also becoming more prevalent, adding to the strain on health care services,” said Dr. Ernest.
Despite these challenges, Dr. Ernest remains optimistic about the future and is committed to making a difference. He remains hopeful and actively seeks ways to make a positive impact on the lives of patients and the community. He is keen to play a part in addressing the issues faced by the health care system. His passion for helping people and contributing to the improvement of health care in Nova Scotia drives him to continue his efforts.
Dr. Ernest's story is one of perseverance, compassion and dedication. He remains a pillar of the Liverpool community, enriching the lives of countless individuals and families. As he embarks on his academic pursuit, Liverpool and the entire province will benefit from his contributions and expertise for years to come.