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Dr. Stephen Farrell, New Waterford Family Physician celebrates 46 years of medical practice

In the past 50 years, many things have changed about the way medicine is practiced in Nova Scotia. Dr. Stephen Farrell would know—he’s had a front-row seat for it all! Now, he has lots to reflect on during his well-deserved retirement.

Born and raised in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton, Dr. Farrell completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish before attending medical school at Dalhousie University. After receiving his medical doctorate in 1975, Dr. Farrell began a one-year internship which is the equivalent of today’s two-year family medicine residency program. Following his internship, Dr. Farrell ran a family practice in New Brunswick for a short period before returning home to Cape Breton. He has practiced as a family physician here ever since.

When he returned to Cape Breton, Dr. Farrell joined a local family doctor who had plans to retire. After working for a few weeks together, Dr. Farrell took over the practice. He reflects fondly on those early days of his practice.

“When I first arrived, there were no appointments. If someone needed to be seen, they would sit in the last seat and when the patient closest to my door came in for their exam, everyone got up and moved over one seat,” explained Dr. Farrell. “That’s the way it worked! When I took over, I started making appointments available in the evening for people who worked during the daytime. It didn’t take long for things to become more like it is now.”

As a long-time family doctor in New Waterford, Dr. Farrell said he really enjoyed getting to know the people in the community, “people often come up to me and say, ‘you delivered me!’ or ‘I am named after you!’”

After practicing medicine for 46 years, he said many things have changed in the delivery of health care. “The biggest change has been the introduction of computers,” said Dr. Farrell.

Dr. Jennifer Lange, site lead of the New Waterford Medical Site, said Dr. Farrell has been a pillar of the health care community since she joined the New Waterford Collaborative Practice in 2008.

“Steve has participated in all aspects of providing comprehensive family medicine care to all ages throughout his career. Prior to the centralization of obstetrical services at the (Cape Breton) Regional, Dr. Farrell delivered babies in New Waterford,” explained Dr. Lange. “He would work consistent shifts in the New Waterford ‘outpatients’ department, frequently providing coverage for 24 hours at a time.”

In addition to running a large family practice, Dr. Farrell provided his services in obstetric care and worked in the emergency department at the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital. And, right up until his last day of work, he dedicated one week out of every six to inpatient care at the hospital. Dr. Farrell also provided care for patients in the local nursing homes, and he would take his turn covering urgent calls after hours from the nursing home.

“Steve was also willing to evolve with how we provide care to inpatients in New Waterford. He transitioned from covering his own in-patients to the hospitalist care model, and Steve provided regular hospitalist coverage until his retirement,” said Dr. Lange.  

In the last few years, New Waterford Collaborative Practice also started an evening primary care clinic during after-hours care in New Waterford. Dr. Lange said that Dr. Farrell willingly participated in his share of shifts.

“After 46 years of dedicated service, Dr. Farrell has more than earned his right to retire, but his calm manner and quiet sense of humour will be greatly missed. His departure leaves a hole in the heart of family medicine in New Waterford that will always be felt,” said Dr. Lange

As he approached retirement, Dr. Farrell has tried to slow down his medical practice, however this hasn’t been easy with almost 1400 patients still under his care. He says he struggled most with the concept of potentially leaving his patients without a care provider. Thankfully, there will be some help.

Dr. Stephanie Ofoegbu, a new physician in the area, has taken over a portion of Dr. Farrell’s practice.

“I am very thankful for her taking over these patients at the suggestion of Primary Health Care at Nova Scotia Health – it eases my mind,” said Dr. Farrell.

When asked if he has any advice for new physicians, Dr. Farrell said to “take time for your family and keep in touch with colleagues.”  And that’s just what he intends to do in his retirement. Dr. Farrell is most looking forward to spending more time at his home on the Bras d’Or Lake.

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