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This article was published 28/3/2016 (1429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — If you look hard enough among the House of Commons binders and piles of papers in the office of MP Doug Eyolfson, you might find something less political in nature: medical textbooks.
Eyolfson, 53, is one of five medical doctors serving as MPs in the House of Commons, and although he is committed full time to being the MP for Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia-Headingley, he’s not giving up his stethoscope just yet.
In his spare time, Eyolfson is doing the required course work and reading to keep up his licence as an emergency room doctor and taking shifts when he can at the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.
"That profession was what gave me the knowledge and experience that put me here," Eyolfson said in a recent interview with the Free Press.
'That profession was what gave me the knowledge and experience that put me here'— Manitoba MP Doug Eyolfson, of his work as an ER doctor
"I formed a lot of the ideas I have that made me think of doing this with my work in the emergency department. It was a connection between the health-care system and the community. It was a way of me interacting with the community and seeing first-hand what many of our most needy have to deal with."
Eyolfson is a born and bred Winnipegger who graduated from medical school at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a five-year fellowship in emergency medicine in Winnipeg. In 1998, he started working full time as an emergency room physician, beginning at the Victoria General Hospital for a year. Then he spent eight years at the Seven Oaks General Hospital, and for the last eight years he has been at the Health Sciences Centre.
Getting ER shifts in is a little tricky because he is determined it will not interfere with his constituency work as an MP. But his colleagues in the ER are supportive, and when he has some room in his schedule, he calls them up and offers to take a shift. So far, he’s done three shifts since the election, but his goal is to do at least one a month.
"I can’t really schedule them well beforehand because that would interfere with my constituency work," he said. "This is my career now."
Not only does it help him keep his skills as a doctor, Eyolfson said it helps him get out of the Parliament Hill bubble.
"I think I will be able to better do my job here by doing that," he said.
He also brings to Parliament a direct knowledge of issues facing the health-care system and also a better understanding of what people in the community are facing in their lives. He said it is valuable in his work as an MP and also as a member of the health and veterans affairs committees of the House of Commons.
Eyolfson is not unique in the House of Commons as a physician trying to stay in both the political and medical worlds. Conservative MP Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey) is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. Elected in 2011, she has been keeping up her credentials by taking call shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, even when she was in cabinet.
Leitch, who was born in Winnipeg but grew up in Fort McMurray Alta., was the minister of labour for the final two years of Stephen Harper’s government.
Leitch told the Free Press she takes a call for one week out of every six. She isn’t on site for the entire week but says it has helped her keep a connection to the community.
"It really grounded me," she said. "It helps me make better decisions and helped me be a better cabinet minister."
As a cabinet minister, Leitch could not be paid for the work so she volunteered her time. The money she would have been paid stayed with the hospital. She is maintaining that arrangement, even though there are no similar constraints on MPs about accepting outside money for additional work.
Eyolfson plans to donate any money he makes working as a doctor while he is an MP.
Liberal Health Minister Jane Philpott’s spokesman said she is doing what she needs to do to keep her licence but didn’t say whether she is taking on any medical shifts.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, an MP since 1997, did the required work to maintain her physician’s licence until last year when she decided to relinquish it.
The other physician in the House of Commons is Hedy Fry, the Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre.