Dr. Lyne Pitre: Franco-Ontarians’ healthcare champion
By Johanne Adam
Did you know that you can receive medical services in French in Ontario? Throughout Eastern Ontario, and in a smattering of other places across the province, doctors are pleased to serve their patients in the language of Molière. Many of these doctors have been trained by a uOttawa alumna who, for the past 30 years, has ensured that medical residents in Ontario have access to training in French.
Dr. Lyne Pitre (BSc ’82, MD ’86) has a long association with the family medicine residency program at the Montfort Hospital in Ottawa, first as department head and then as family medicine program director. In 2015, she became director of medical education at the Institut du savoir Montfort, making her responsible for all medical residents and students.
Throughout her career, she has trained, in French, more than 200 family doctors while also serving as an associate professor in uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine.
Dr. Pitre’s motivation to train the next generation of Francophone doctors has deep roots. Her father was an active member of the Ordre de Jacques Cartier, a secret society also known as La Patente that worked to advance the cause of French Canadians.
“When a business opened its doors, members would spread the word and then go there to ask for services in French,” she says. “I grew up in that kind of environment, so it’s entirely natural for me to want to use my language in daily life. When you speak French, you should expect to receive services in French.”
Training family doctors, then specialists
As Montfort’s director of medical education, Dr. Pitre has set a new goal. She now wants to increase the number of specialist residencies at Montfort, namely in internal medicine, psychiatry, obstetrics, surgery, anesthesiology and orthopedics.
“I would like to see at least one Francophone resident enrolled in each basic speciality for the next seven to eight years,” she says. “Often, we don’t realize how essential it is to care for patients in their chosen language, the language they feel most comfortable hearing and speaking. My goal is to train as many doctors as possible who can express themselves in French.”
Rather than being reserved for residents whose mother tongue is French, the residency program at Montfort welcomes at least one Anglophone resident each year. These residents seek to better understand Francophone culture while improving their own fluency in French.
“These students also realize that patients need to be cared for in their own language,” Dr. Pitre says. “Many of these residents have become real Francophiles.”
Ontario’s first Francophone family healthcare team
In addition to her work at Montfort and with the University of Ottawa, Lyne Pitre is the lead doctor of Montfort’s Équipe de santé familiale académique, the medical clinic she co-founded that is located steps away from the hospital.
“Our clients are essentially all Francophones. When we opened in 2011, we served 5,000 patients. Today, we have nearly 8,000.”
But despite these successes, the shortage of Francophone healthcare professionals in Ontario is far from resolved. Dr. Pitre, who was born at the Montfort Hospital and grew up in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood, dreams of a day when Ontario will have enough doctors to serve all of its Francophones.
“The province’s Francophones are aging and right now, only a minority of this elderly population are bilingual,” she says.
Although the Ontario government recently decided to abolish certain French-language services, Lyne Pitre has no time for discouragement.
“It’s very frustrating to see that, in 2019, we still have work to do, we still have to fight to maintain the status quo. But in the wake of these cuts, my Franco-Ontarian pride has only grown.
“You need to be passionate about medicine to work in this field, and it’s a passion I’ve never lost. Even though it can be very complex to provide day-to-day care to patients, we must never forget that we undertook this calling for the sake of our patients, and we must always strive to improve their quality of life.”
Prizes won by Dr. Lyne Pitre in 2018
- Named 2018 Regional Family Physician of the Year by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.
- Recognized for her work in promoting medicine in French with the Prix de l’ambassadeur du français en médecine Jacques Boulay, awarded by the Association des médecins francophones du Canada, the association representing Francophone physicians in Canada.
- Received the Prix Ilios for career achievement at Montfort Hospital’s merit awards gala.