After nearly three decades of distinguished service in Alberta and beyond, Pincher Creek physician, Cathy Scrimshaw, is ready to hang up the stethoscope, for now anyway.
Dr. Scrimshaw grew up in Calgary and trained to be a physician in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Scrimshaw’s eyes were first opened to rural practice during her studies, which included a clerkship in High Level in northern Alberta.
Having found rural practice really appealing, when it came time to do her residency, she chose a rural program in Newfoundland.
She still remembers her first day.
“We were at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. …There [were] four of us sitting at a table having lunch. This page comes over for ‘Dr. Scrimshaw’. I turn to them and say ‘that is so weird. In all my career, I have never met another person who has the name Scrimshaw’.”
“And Mike [another physician] looks at me and says ‘Cathy, that is you.’ I had never been called a doctor before. … I always remember that,” she added with a laugh.
She finished her residency and then practised for three-and-a-half years on remote Fogo Island, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
Dr. Scrimshaw came back west in 1992. Her husband, Gord Petersen’s love for nature photography and her passion for rural practice made Pincher Creek an ideal fit. More importantly, Petersen had grandparents that ranched in the Pincher Creek area.
Impressed by the innovation happening at The Associate Clinic in Pincher Creek, Dr. Scrimshaw joined the team there.
“She was immediately very popular and rightly so,” said now-retired Dr. Antony Irving. He was already practising in Pincher Creek when Dr. Scrimshaw arrived.
“She contributed massively to our practice.”
I continuously use [Dr. Scrimshaw] as an example when speaking with my peers about someone that shows a superhuman level of dedication to this field. – Dr. Daniel Ruttle
Dr. Scrimshaw was inspirational in moving The Associate Clinic from downtown to adjoining the hospital. With more health professionals all in one place, it made it easier for her to set up the patient medical home model. Under this model, patients can see various health professionals in the same clinic.
“A lot of the early work that she did in building those things up is what became the modern Primary Care Network, which we all know now,” said Dr. Gavin Parker, family physician at The Associate Clinic.
“Alberta has really led the country in developing [the patient medical home model].”
Dr. Scrimshaw has been one of the greatest mentors as a family physician to me. – Dr. Ashley Rommens
Dr. Scrimshaw’s accomplishments are many. She was a member of the team that created the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC) the national voice of Canadian rural physicians, and is also past president of the Alberta College of Family Physicians.
She has also been an advocate for the health concerns of Indigenous peoples in the Pincher Creek area.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Dr. Scrimshaw has had to see her patients virtually, as she has an immunodeficiency that puts her at extreme risk if she contracted the coronavirus.
As someone who is always totally dedicated to her patients’ care, she felt virtual care left a gap.
As such, Dr. Scrimshaw finished her practice at The Associate Clinic in Pincher Creek at the end of 2020.
Dr. Scrimshaw will be greatly missed, not only by her patients, but also by the many younger physicians she has mentored.
“I continuously use [Dr. Scrimshaw] as an example when speaking with my peers about someone that shows a superhuman level of dedication to this field and to their patients,” said Dr. Daniel Ruttle, family physician, The Associate Clinic.
Fellow Pincher Creek family physician, Dr. Ashley Rommens, echoed his compliment.
“Dr. Scrimshaw has been one of the greatest mentors as a family physician to me, and I feel I will always utilize [her] knowledge and skills,” Dr. Rommens explained.
The rural practice is so rewarding and, again, it’s because of that depth and breadth of what you get to do. – Dr. Cathy Scrimshaw
Dr. Scrimshaw remains a strong advocate for rural health care as she continues to serve on many health-related committees. She also works part time for the Alberta College of Family Physicians as the medical director for their mentorship network for chronic pain and addiction.
She encourages medical students to include rural practice in their studies.
“Take that opportunity that you have in your clerkship to spend a month or two in an active, comprehensive, rural practice,” says Dr. Scrimshaw.
“The rural practice is so rewarding and, again, it’s because of that depth and breadth of what you get to do. It’s so flexible, but you have to experience it to understand it.”
While the 61-year-old physician has hung up the stethoscope for now, once the COVID risk disappears, she may someday serve as a locum doctor and fill in for other doctors when they are sick or away.
RhPAP wishes Dr. Scrimshaw all the best in her retirement from family practice.