Nov. 23, 2020

Launching a Medical Career in a Changing World

For Dr. Venessa Shaneman, MD, and many others, COVID-19 led to a shift in their practice to increased virtual care

Dr. Venessa Shaneman, BSc’12, MD’16, PGME’19, embarked on her new career as a community family physician during a turbulent time for physicians in Alberta. Changes to physician contracts began a year ago, the month she completed her residency.

She had always dreamed of practicing community medicine, focusing on her own group of patients because she loves the continuity of care that is woven into primary care. “The instability has made me a bit more nervous about how things will look over the next few years. I don’t want to think about the financial aspect of things, I am not business savvy, I just want to practice medicine. However, the reality is we need to be cognizant of our overhead.”  says Dr. Shaneman.

Dr. Venessa Shaneman, BSc’12, MD’16, PGME’19

Dr. Venessa Shaneman, BSc’12, MD’16, PGME’19

March 2020 brought more uncertainty and a shift in practice for Dr. Shaneman. Like her colleagues, when the pandemic was declared, she had to adjust the way she treated patents. Dr. Shaneman moved to virtual care, a format of assessment that had not previously been taught in medical training but is now being integrated into curriculums.

"Another big learning curve has been the telehealth aspect of practice. Although virtual appointments have benefits, it is appropriate for only a select number of things,” she says. “It is amazing how much information you get from seeing a person face-to-face. There are things that you are picking up on when you see a person in the office that you cannot determine through a computer screen.  It has been tough to adapt to practicing when you can’t physically examine a patient.”

Practicing medicine during the Covid-19 pandemic has added another layer to the existing cognitive burden of being a generalist. “Family physicians see everything from a well-baby check to someone with advancing dementia to discussing contraception. This variety is one of the things I love about family medicine but is also what makes it really challenging. It is a blessing and a burden,” says Shaneman.

As a new physician she loves getting to know her patients. However, she acknowledges that it takes longer to fully and appropriately assess complex and older patients. She has also seen an increase in people struggling with mental health because of the pandemic. These patients require longer appointments that are not rushed.

“As a new grad your learning curve is huge for the first few years. You begin to make decisions independently and you feel the weight of those decisions. It can also be hard in family medicine when you get to know your patients so well, not to get attached.  You get to share in the joys, which is amazing, but you also see the suffering as well.”

Shaneman is embarking on her career in an unstable and unpredictable time. And while providing care during the pandemic has been a challenge, she acknowledges that it is also an interesting time to practice medicine. 

“While these times have certainly been stressful, I do find it inspiring to see how communities, including the healthcare community, have come together, and I see it as a privilege to work alongside my healthcare colleagues.”