A Chief of Staff with a Patient-First Approach
Of all of the places Dr. Gert Du Plessis has worked – from where he originally trained as a doctor in South Africa, to the UK and northern Alberta – Canmore “is probably the nicest place.”
It was his experience in obstetrics that brought him to Canmore in 2005 from High Level, Alberta, where he’d been working for a few years. Since moving to the Bow Valley, Dr. Du Plessis has run a family and obstetrics medical practice. He’s now a full-time emergency room physician at the Canmore General Hospital, which he notes, has a “very good collegial feel between nursing staff, physicians and support staff.”
Since July 2018, Dr. Du Plessis has also worked as Chief of Staff at the Canmore General Hospital. While he still works full time doing “all the other stuff,” he says he’s “fitting the Chief of Staff stuff in between.”
“He has a very strong work ethic,” says Barb Shellian, Director of Rural Health for Alberta Health Services, noting that Dr. Du Plessis also seems to enjoy the work, bringing compassion to the role.
You could consider the job of Chief of Staff kind of like the glue holding the medical staff and hospital administration together, bridging communication. Of course, it entails more meetings and paperwork than a doctor like Du Plessis does in the emergency room, but it’s that on-the-ground experience that makes him so fit for the job.
The “first thing that Dr. Du Plessis is always concerned about is… quality, competent, safe patient care,” says Shellian. “The approach and the perspective that he has stems from the patient being number one.”
Having more than 30 years of experience, nearly half of that in Canmore, Dr. Du Plessis is well acquainted with the positive impact the Canmore and Area Health Care Foundation has on the hospital, for both patients and their families.
“It's very tough for the hospital to provide optimal care without the support of the foundation,” he says, citing the upgrades to palliative care rooms, which provide an environment that feels more like home, as one example of how the hospital provides improved services thanks to funding from the foundation.
“We know equipment and stuff don't last forever,” says Du Plessis. Over his years in Canmore, he says he’s seen lots of new and improved equipment arrive at the hospital and emergency room that the foundation purchased, including endoscopy equipment so patients access routine checks like colonoscopies without having to make the drive to Calgary.
Dr. Du Plessis “was very instrumental in securing funds and supporting the fundraising for an enhanced environment for new families to start,” says Shellian, referring to the hospital’s two labour and delivery rooms, which were upgraded thanks to a donation from a single philanthropist.
“The donor is my neighbour across the street,” says Dr. Du Plessis.
When you live and work in a small town, these things can happen quite organically. When his neighbour mentioned he was looking to donate to the community, and Dr. Du Plessis knew the hospital needed improvements to its labour and delivery rooms, he suggested his neighbour support the capital project through the foundation.
The labour and delivery rooms are in increasing demand, with the number of newborns delivered at the Canmore General Hospital more than tripling since Dr. Du Plessis moved to the Bow Valley: from 91 deliveries in 2005 to 288 deliveries in 2018.
He says “engaging with people around town” is the best way to solicit donations to the foundation. He encourages not just large-scale philanthropy, but donations in any amount within someone’s means, because it all adds up.
Dr. Du Plessis recalls an example of running into another neighbour at the mailbox, someone who had recently had a positive experience at the hospital and was looking to make a donation. You’re “speaking to the right person,” Dr. Du Plessis told the neighbour, “I can help you.”
In the future, Dr. Du Plessis would like to see the emergency room upgraded. “I’m maybe a little biased,” he jokes.