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Who We Are: Dr. Catherine Tong

Assistant Clinical Professor, Waterloo Regional Campus

Meaningful human connection is at the core of a doctor’s work; it’s the secret of a happy life.

Connecting the Docs

To Catherine Tong, relationships are at the core of family medicine – and connections between doctors are vital to patient care.

“If you like connecting with people and connecting them with others, then you’ll enjoy being a family doctor. That’s what we’re about,” she says. “Whether it’s with a patient in your practice or a brief encounter in ER, I think meaningful human connection is at the core of a doctor’s work. It’s the secret of a happy life.”

It makes for a busy life as well. Catherine, 39, is the lead family physician at the Grand Valley Institution for Women, a federal prison in Kitchener, Ontario. She also clocks Emergency room night shifts at Grand River and St. Mary’s hospitals in Kitchener, and leads faculty development for McMaster’s Waterloo Regional Campus.

Of her schedule she says, “It’s a privilege to be there when people really need you.”

To support faculty development, she recruits doctors who will pass along their clinical skills, and then trains them as teachers. “Teaching adds a new identity and a new layer of complexity to a doctor’s work, but it’s worth the trouble,” she says. The doctors learn to lead a team, speak in public and coach.

Doctors who work outside academic centers may not find opportunities to teach or be trained as a teacher, she said. “It’s a part of my job to make sure they, along with faculty members, get those opportunities.”

The role comes naturally. “My grandparents were both physicians and professors. They always had students with them. Growing up, I took it for granted that as a physician, you have students and an affiliation with a university.”

Catherine graduated high school in downtown Toronto and completed a degree in human biology before attending medical school at the University of Toronto and residency at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ont.

She and husband Steven Chan, also a family doctor, had three children by 2015, when she became regional education leader in Emergency Medicine for the Waterloo Regional Campus of McMaster University.

Sharing the challenges of learning to teach helps physicians to bond across specialties, generations and geographical boundaries, she adds. “To see that relationship emerge that wasn’t there before, well, I just love making that connection. It’s one of the joys of faculty development.”

McMaster University Department of Family MedicineMichael G. DeGroote School of Medicine