The kudos flow as Dr. Paul Kelly makes his way through the Prince County Hospital in Summerside.
Staff heap praise on Kelly for nabbing honours as the 2012 Family Physician of the Year for P.E.I.
Kelly, 67, does his best to downplay receiving the Reg L. Perkin Award, which is the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s annual recognition of family doctors across the country who provide outstanding patient care.
He quips he was bound to win the award by default after practising for decades on Prince Edward Island.
“It’s certainly a humbling experience,’’ he finally concedes. “It’s sort of a feel good experience.’’
Long-time colleague Dr. Peter MacKean of Kensington, who was named the 2005 Family Physician of the Year, says Kelly has more than earned the distinction as Top Doc.
MacKean says Kelly has not only devoted 40 years to caring for patients, but the soft-spoken Summerside doctor has always put an emphasis on patients receiving quality care.
Kelly, who served for a number of years as chief of medical staff at the PCH, was the one who started the quality assurance committee at the hospital and also played a leading role in developing the hospital’s palliative care program. He speaks with great pride of the consistently high level of care patients receive at Prince County Hospital.
MacKean says Kelly also provides wise counsel to other physicians. MacKean, for one, always knew he could turn to Kelly for sound advice.
“Always open and friendly...he makes sure if there is a problem, he makes sure it’s solved,’’ said MacKean. “He gets the job done but he does it in an open manner.’’
Kelly says he always tries to be a good communicator and a good listener when dealing with his patients.
“You have to give the patient the opportunity to explain what they feel their problem is,’’ he said.
Kelly chose to become a doctor, he says, simply because the job appeared intriguing.
Growing up in Summerside, he used to cut the lawn of his own family physician that lived down the road.
“I thought he did interesting stuff and I would like to do interesting stuff,’’ he said.
As a youth, Kelly did plenty of work along with his brother, Frank, who is also a doctor, and his sister Helen Coughlan, a social worker.
The siblings helped bring money into the household that saw Kelly’s father Bennett, a registrar of deeds, die when Kelly was only four.
Kelly started delivering newspapers around the age of 10, later cut lawns, and at age 15 began work at the Tartan Restaurant washing dishes, bussing tables and serving at a soda fountain.
Kelly’s mother was a teacher and, notes Kelly, teaching was far from a high-paying job in those days.
“It was a household where you had to think of the costs of things,’’ he said.
“My sons (Ian, an economist in Ottawa, and Sean, a lawyer in Halifax) have not had to worry about that.’’
Kelly’s game plan was to settle in Summerside eventually for a long family physician practice. First, though, he enjoyed an adventurous start to his career after studying medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He practised for two years in rural areas of Newfoundland. He worked with some of the first nurse practioners in the country.
He made some house calls, travelling to homes that were a good piece from the hospital.
He did some dental work, which he learned through other doctors, not at university.
With very few veterinarians in Newfoundland at the time, he even stitched up a horse that was caught up in a fence.
Putting study into practice, he says, was a very exciting time. He quickly made a point to listen to the observations of those he worked with. Good medicine, he notes, is done as a team.
After two years in Newfoundland, he had a short stint in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick before joining CUSO to do work in Africa.
He worked in two different hospitals in Botswana, focusing in anesthesia.
With most of his care being provided to children, he saw plenty of tuberculosis and measles.
Work in another continent “fulfilled (his) wanderlust.” Eight months into his work in Africa, he also met Katherine, who was teaching under CUSO.
Four years later in 1980, he married Katherine, who went on to become CEO of East Prince Health and currently works on a school health initiative.
After leaving Africa, Kelly worked for six months in the emergency department of Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s where he dealt with acute illnesses of children.
“It was fairly tame work compared to work in Africa,’’ he said.
Kelly then moved back to P.E.I., setting up shop at the Summerside Medical Centre for a family practice that would span 25 years.
With a peak of 2,500 patients, the doctor found his practice to be fulfilling.
“There’s always something different...every patient has their own individual presentation and every patient is interesting in their own way,’’ he said.
In 2004, Kelly left the Summerside Medical Centre and moved into the Harbourside Health Centre, where he continues to work today. He also does rounds Monday to Friday at the Prince County Hospital.
In good health at 67 — he takes his Rottweiler Sacha for two lengthy walks a day — Kelly is in no hurry to stop working.
“I’m not ready to retire,’’ he said.