Doctor’s departure distresses patients

Nona Zen Temujinn will be without a family physician at the end of this month. That prospect literally gives her nightmares. The dreams are vague, she said, but they involve the feeling of lying on an operating table, cut wide open, with no one there.

Nona Zen Temujinn will be without a family physician at the end of this month. That prospect literally gives her nightmares.

The dreams are vague, she said, but they involve the feeling of lying on an operating table, cut wide open, with no one there.

She won’t be entirely alone. Zen Temujinn, 58, will join the many people in the Yukon who are without a family physician when her doctor, Saleena Djearam, leaves Whitehorse. (Dr. Djearam declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Temujinn, who has lived in the Yukon since 1986, has several chronic health conditions including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, a heart condition and chronic depression. On average, she said, she sees her doctor once a month.

While she understands people across the country are without a doctor, she said she wants the government to do more to bring doctors to the Yukon and have the ones who are here stay. She has expressed her concerns to the Ministry of Health and Community Services.

Whenever possible, physicians who are closing their practice must give patients three months’ notice, according to Yukon Medical Council regulations. Patients are to be notified by a letter sent to their last known address or given to them during an appointment and by a notice placed in a local newspaper.

Zen Temujinn learned her doctor would be leaving at an appointment on July 11. She had received a letter dated June 25, but does not remember if she read it right away, she said. She also learned her doctor had been in contact with a doctor from Manitoba who had expressed a willingness to come to Whitehorse.

On July 19, she emailed Minister Doug Graham to say how much she appreciates Dr. Djearam, the distress her pending departure had already caused her and how she hoped the doctor from Manitoba would come to Whitehorse.

The next day, she received a response from the minister’s office saying it had heard from several people with the same concerns, and that the government was doing what they could to attain the services of the doctor Zen Temujinn mentioned.

NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson issued an open letter to the minister asking for an update on recruitment programs and encouraging him to reconsider how health care is structured. Hanson has received at least half a dozen letters from Dr. Djearam’s patients in the last few weeks, she said.

Minister Graham was not available for an interview before press time to discuss the situation.

There are 213 licenced physicians in Yukon, said Fiona Charbonneau, registrar for the Yukon Medical Council. That number includes specialists and family doctors. Of the 213 physicians, 75 have purchased resident licences. Licences are purchased for either three or 12 months. Of those 75 doctors, 61 are family practitioners.

To become licenced, a physician must submit an application to the YMC. If they meet all the criteria of the application, they will receive their licence, Charbonneau said.

Physicians must have a licence from the Medical Council of Canada and hold a certificate from either the Canadian College of Family Physicians or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. They may also practise in the Yukon if they have a current full licence from another territory or province in Canada that is subject to the Agreement on Internal Trade. All jurisdictions but Nunavut subscribe to that agreement, Charbonneau said.

For now, Dr. Djearam’s patients agree they will be losing a wonderful doctor when she leaves Whitehorse this month. Wanda Lee has only felt so confident with one other doctor she’s had in the Yukon, she said. Lee, 58, does not consider her doctor to be her friend, but does see her as a confidante.

She found out early in the year that Djearam would be leaving. She also heard Djearam knew of a doctor who was willing to come to Whitehorse and was trying to have her come. Because Lee has received great care from Djearam, she said she was confident this possible new doctor would also be someone she could trust.

Lee has several chronic health concerns. A car accident about 10 years ago has left her with difficulty walking. She is an insulin-dependent diabetic and also has a heart condition. She sees her doctor about once a week.

She needs the security of knowing her doctor understands her health conditions, she said.

Her medications cost around $1,000 monthly, she said. Because of the government funding she receives to cover their costs, she knows she could never leave the territory and she wants to stay.

She’s received much better care at Whitehorse General Hospital than at hospitals in British Columbia, she said. She also knows people in more serious situations who don’t have a doctor.

“I do believe something is going to happen, and we’ll be OK,” she said. But until that “something” happens, whenever that will be, waiting for a doctor has become a battle.

“We’re fighting for our lives here,” she said sitting on her couch with her walker nearby. “I don’t want to leave the Yukon because I don’t feel safe.”

Contact Meagan Gillmore at