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Surviving the First Five Years

By Michelle Chow MD, CCFP, BSc (Hons), NCMP

The practice of medicine can be a rewarding, but challenging journey. Reflecting back on my first five years of family practice, there are several things I wish I knew about earlier or could have used more.

Here are some tips for surviving the first five years:

  1. Know your limits, but also know your strengths – not all cases are straight forward, but many are still manageable in the primary care setting. If you need extra guidance, in Alberta, we have quick access to specialist colleagues through avenues such as Specialist Link, Netcare eReferrals, and independent e-Consult platforms (for example, or Specialist Link also offers several Clinical Pathways that are accessible online to help guide your diagnosis and treatment for specific disorders. These pathways can also help you determine whether a formal referral is required.
  2. Know your EMR – it is often a struggle to stay on-time in clinic. Sometimes a simple one-on-one session with an EMR “super user” will improve your efficiency and add some precious minutes to your day. Consider setting up macros and using templates when possible. “Favorite” your most commonly used forms and requisitions. If your EMR is slowing you down, you might need to switch to a more user-friendly option.
  3. Get to know your colleagues – conferences and talks are a great way to network with other family physicians. You might find someone with a subspecialty interest that you can refer to in the future. Alternatively, you might find someone who can relate to your work/life struggles and offer suggestions for solutions. Often, it is helpful to speak to more experienced colleagues for support.
  4. Do not ignore deadlines – sometimes it’s easy to forget there is another world outside of medicine. However, several deadlines cannot be ignored, especially the 90-day rule for submitting billings to Alberta Health, renewing your CPSA license, collecting adequate CME credits (both yearly and over the 5-year cycle) and filing/paying your taxes.

While this list is not comprehensive (nor does it endorse any particular resource), I hope it provides some useful tips for making it through the first five years and beyond.

One response to “Surviving the First Five Years”

  1. Dr. Chow – thanks for the shout out to SpecialistLink. An example of how Primary Care Networks support community Family Docs! Props to Drs. Linda Slocombe, Oliver David, Christine Luelo, Monica Sargious (and many others!) whose inspiration made this happen. Keith Bradford and Yolanda Martens-Vanhilst for operational leadership.

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