By Jenn Watt
Published March 6 2018
Haliburton’s newest physician first discovered the Haliburton Highlands through her computer screen.
Dr. Devon Tilbrook and her husband had been actively searching for a small town to relocate from Toronto following the birth of their twins but hadn’t found the right place.
“I googled ‘family health team doctor position’ and there was a posting but it was old” Tilbrook said.
She decided to call the phone number anyway and left a message when it went to voicemail.
“A couple of days later Dr. [Norm] Bottum called me. He said actually we are looking [for a doctor] and we have someone who’s just retiring. So I said can we visit this weekend?”
Tilbrook laughs when she thinks about how quickly the whole transition took place.
The family came to visit Haliburton for the first time in July of 2017 and by January 2018 she was seeing patients at the medical clinic in the village.
“In July we came up for one day and decided to move here. In October we came up for one day and bought a house” she said.
For Kimberley Robinson executive director of the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team Tilbrook’s decision came at the perfect time. “It meant a lot” she said.
There are currently 10 physicians with nearly 10500 rostered patients. “It would be nice to have at least two more [doctors]” Robinson said.
In Haliburton County there is a need for both emergency department doctors and family physicians. Sometimes those who work with the Family Health Team also work at the emergency department sometimes they don’t. There aren’t yet enough physicians to put a dent in the current waitlist.
“We’re still taking names off the list from 2015” said Robinson.
Tilbrook’s arrival was nearly simultaneous with local physician Dr. Barbara Varty’s planned retirement.
“It was perfect timing” said Robinson. “We had a physician who was retiring … so she reached out to Dr. Tilbrook as well.”
Varty’s 580 patients were transferred to Tilbrook upon her arrival. She hopes to take on more patients as time goes on but first is getting accustomed to the current environment.
Tilbrook grew up in downtown Toronto and began practising medicine in 2008. In 2010 she started working in Sioux Lookout about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
“I was there for … six years but I would travel back and forth from Toronto” said Tilbrook. “Then I had twins and we realized the travel wasn’t going to be possible anymore. It wasn’t a possibility for us to move there.”
Growing up in one of Canada’s most urban environments and trained to work in the inner city Tilbrook said she wasn’t expecting to end up working in a rural setting.
“In our residency we have to do two months rurally” she explained. “I did that and realized that I really enjoyed the diversity that rural doctors had. Then when I went into practice I alternated between locuming in Toronto and locuming rurally. I really enjoyed it so I just kept going with it.”
Her residency was in Orillia and she said the team approach enhanced her work experience.
While she didn’t have a direct connection to Haliburton her residency experience has Haliburton roots.
“Actually one of the doctors here [in Haliburton] Karl Hartwick used to run the program at U of T that sent people rurally” Tilbrook said. “So when I met him he was very excited that it was [his program] that got me switched over.”
Tilbrook said it was the combination of Haliburton’s team-based model and the appeal of the village itself that helped her family make the decision to relocate.
On the medicine side Tilbrook said she’s enjoying being able to follow in-patients’ progress at the hospital do shifts in the emergency department and spend time in the clinic.
“For community we wanted a place we’d be happy to live and have our children grow up in. We were reassured about the schools here. It’s a very nice setting and there’s lots of things to do. The week we came there was an art festival and that was really enticing” she said.
Plus there’s the fun of experiencing new things.
“It’s exciting for me to see deer. It’s so beautiful here and peaceful. I’ve never lived somewhere where you couldn’t hear your neighbours at all.”