May 19, 2019 is Family Doctor Day. Family physicians play an integral role in our health care system, providing lifelong care of individuals and of generations of family members. They are the primary point of contact between patients and medical specialists, and they assist with every aspect of health maintenance, including disease prevention, early identification, diagnosis and management, and so much more.

In honour of Family Doctor Day, we would like to introduce you to Canadian Cancer Care’s lead physician, Dr. Tannis Spencer. Dr. Spencer is a family doctor with a special interest in palliative care and oncology. She sometimes also works in addiction medicine at Edmonton’s Addiction Recovery Centre.

What made you decide to pursue a career in medicine, specifically family medicine?

I’ve always had an interest in human biology, and combined with my love for working with people, it seemed like the right fit. During medical school, I realized I liked all aspects of medicine and I really enjoyed continuity of care through a patient’s lifetime, so I decided to enter into family medicine. I have many different interests in medicine, and I love that I get to combine all of it together in my day-to-day practice in clinic.

Where did you go to school/train?

I was born and raised in Calgary and now I cheer on both the Oilers and the Flames! I completed my honours bachelor of science degree in psychology at Western University in Ontario, then moved out to Edmonton for medical school and a family Medicine residency through the University of Alberta. I met my husband here in Edmonton, and so this is where I have stayed.

What drew you to Canadian Cancer Care?

Previously, I worked in Westlock as a general family medicine doctor, doing everything from family medicine to emergency medicine, hospital in-patient care, palliative care, long term care and much more. It was in Westlock that I developed my interest in palliative care, and I worked on getting extra training, specifically to hone my skills in this field. My husband’s work circumstances required me to move my practice to Edmonton, and when I heard about the opportunity to bring my interests to Canadian Cancer Care, I couldn’t refuse! Much like family doctors who have special interests in women’s health/maternity care or addiction medicine, we can provide specialized care for patients with a cancer diagnosis. This could be for patients who do not have a family doctor and need help during their cancer treatment, or as a consultation service for the wider medical community in primary care for patients facing an oncology or palliative diagnosis.

Canadian Cancer Care has been so flexible and accommodating as well. I have several patients who are still part of my practice from Westlock, and in addition to incorporating my special interest in oncology and palliative care, I can continue with my family medicine practice for patients looking for general care. I really get to enjoy a wide range of interests, which means I’m always learning and I never get bored!

What is the most interesting part about your job?

Meeting new people and hearing their life stories. I really enjoy being a part of their life and watching them succeed and progress through the ups and downs that life can throw at us. Working through health concerns and problem solving with patients is a great experience, and it is an honour to be a part of their health care team.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

I often get asked if working in oncology and palliative medicine is “depressing” but it is actually not. A cancer diagnosis is the most challenging event someone may face, but it brings out the best in the human spirit and it is a privilege to be part of that as a physician. The toughest part for me is keeping on top of the ever-changing field of oncology that is constantly progressing and improving.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

When I’m not in clinic, attending conferences/workshops, working at the Addiction Recovery Centre or helping with after-hours clinics, you can find me walking my two very lazy greyhounds, playing soccer, watching Netflix with my equally lazy cat, or travelling with my husband. The next stop will be Boston and Halifax in July – my first real vacation in over a year and a half!