East Kootenay benefits from homegrown GP Oncologist

Drs. Keith Lowden and Shawna Dawe share GPO cancer care responsibilities for Cranbrook and the East Kootenay.
Drs. Keith Lowden and Shawna Dawe share GPO cancer care responsibilities for Cranbrook and the East Kootenay.

Reprinted with permission from Family Practice Oncology Network Journal, Fall 2015

Cancer patients in East Kootenay communities – and Cranbrook in particular – have a unique advantage in that the care they receive is often led by their very own, Dr. Keith Lowden, a General Practitioner in Oncology (GPO) with a local history. He finished high school in the community, graduated from the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Medicine, and returned to build a busy family practice for almost two decades before training to become one of the region’s initial GPOs. Dr. Lowden shares his insight into the role:

Evolution of a GPO

Before I joined the program in 2003, chemotherapy was administered by family physicians in our East Kootenay Hospital’s Emergency Department which doubled as an Ambulatory Care Unit. I took on the role of GPO with the establishment of the Cranbrook Oncology Clinic, a satellite centre for the BC Cancer Agency’s Kelowna Centre located within our hospital. Initially, I worked one week per month on the chemotherapy unit and maintained my family practice including obstetrics. This eventually grew to a 0.9 FTE position and, together with recent GPO Training Program graduate Dr. Shawna Dawe, we provide outpatient chemotherapy five days a week for patients throughout the East Kootenay region, a catchment area of about 70,000 people.

My training took place just prior to the launch of the Family Practice Oncology Network’s GPO Training Program in 2004. I completed rotations with most of the Oncologists and pain and symptom management physicians at the Kelowna Centre, and benefited from numerous one-on-one teaching sessions. I also focused my CME at the time on oncology conferences and gained valuable insight from spending time with Dr. Bob O’Brien, the now retired first GPO in Cranbrook.

Thoughts on the Role

I really enjoy the variety of work that comes with looking after cancer patients. It’s a much different way of providing care than family practice – a true team approach. We benefit, for example, from working with dedicated pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists, BC Cancer Foundation volunteers, and of course, some of the best nurses in the hospital. Dr. Shawna Dawe completed the GPO Training Program earlier this year and is extremely well trained for her role as a partner in our busy clinic.

We also have the time to spend with patients in our clinic and resolve complex care issues. Our patients are very grateful for this local support which is a reward in itself. Some still have to travel up to 2.5 hours to see us, but this a much better option than a 9 hour journey to Kelowna.

Our expertise is appreciated as well by our Family Physician colleagues who don’t have to navigate all the intricacies of cancer care alone in a rural community. We focus only on cancer patients and have developed knowledge and skills that we are happy to share. Further, our clinic is strongly supported by the medical and radiation Oncologists from the Kelowna Centre through Telehealth and by phone or email.

Reaching Outward

I am also a clinical faculty member with UBC and regularly host residents to provide them with a community oncology experience and the chance to interact with patients. I really enjoy teaching and, in fact, have facilitated the joint Network/UBC Continuing Professional Development Cancer Care Outreach Program on Education modules both in Cranbrook and in our surrounding communities.

I am also active in the Association of BC GPOs which provides a forum for those of us throughout the province to connect and voice our shared concerns to improve the care we provide. There is also a national association – the Canadian Association of GPOs – which further strengthens our position. There is no reason to feel isolated as a GPO. Our work is valued in our community and I would encourage anyone interested in enhancing their cancer care knowledge and skills to contact the Network for information on the GPO Training Program.

Contact Dr. Keith Lowden at klowden@bccancer.bc.ca


Next GPO training course begins February 22, 2016

The GPO Training Program is an eight-week course offering rural family physicians and newly hired Agency GPOs and Nurse Practitioners the opportunity to strengthen their oncology skills and knowledge. The program covers BC and the Yukon and includes a two-week introductory module held twice yearly at the Vancouver Cancer Centre followed by six weeks of flexibly scheduled clinical rotation at the Centre where participants’ patients are referred. The program is accredited by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and eligible physicians will receive a stipend and have their expenses covered. Full details at www.fpon.ca

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