Dr. Roy Chernoff is fascinated by people.
“I like people,” the family physician of 35 years says with a warm and inviting smile. “What’s great about being a family doctor, especially if you’ve been around for a long time like I have, is that each day you know who you’re seeing: who they are, what they do. I have some people who’ve been coming to see me for 30 years, and it’s the reason why it’s so hard to quit.”
Dr. Chernoff is a dedicated family physician, who, at the age of 60, still works a 50-hour week at Willowgrove Medical Group, where he’s been practicing since 1981.
Dr. Roy Chernoff, Head of Family Medicine at Saskatoon Health Region
“My typical day is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and nursing homes on the weekend,” he says, adding that he works five and a half days a week, in addition to one night shift a week at Willowgrove’s walk-in clinic.
In addition to his duties at the clinic, for the past 16 years, Dr. Chernoff has been Saskatoon Health Region’s Head of Family Medicine.
“I’m still working full time, and spending about five to 10 hours a week doing head of department things,” he says, explaining that his responsibilities include liaising with hospital specialists, keeping members up to date with changes in the health region, interviewing new family physicians to the Region and attending executive family medicine meetings.
“I like going to the meetings,” he says, even though many occur before 8 a.m., at noon or after hours. “It’s been great getting to liaise with specialists across the Region. If you’re just an office doc, like many of us are, you don’t get to see or interact with your specialist colleagues. Being head of family medicine, I get to interact with hospital physicians and specialists. I get to talk to them about things that are changing.
“For example, there are now more walk-in clinics and after-hours clinics to take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms,” he continues. “It’s a good time to be in family medicine, so it’s been a pleasure to keep doing my job.”
As a family physician, Dr. Chernoff says he leads a rewarding and interesting career looking after everyone from babies to the elderly.
“Family physicians are involved in newborn care, early life care, mid-life care, and death and dying,” he says. “We see the whole spectrum of medicine.”
Of the 300 family doctors in Saskatoon Health Region, only about 80 continue to deliver babies. Dr. Chernoff is one of them.
“Family physicians used to do 70 to 75 per cent of the deliveries in Saskatoon, but it’s flipped. Now specialists do about 75 per cent, and we do about 25 per cent,” he says.
Over his 35-year career, Dr. Chernoff has delivered hundreds of babies, though probably never more than 30 a year, he says modestly.
“No matter how many deliveries I’ve seen, it’s still amazing to see a baby born,” he says enthusiastically, describing the process of following a mother and her baby from conception to birth as “neat.”
“It’s going to be hard to quit delivering babies, but I just turned 60, and my wife has said, ‘That’s enough!’” he says affectionately. “It’s hard as you get older to do a delivery at three in the morning and be at work at 8 a.m., and at my age, you tend to be busier because you’ve attracted all these families. Your office is booked further ahead the longer you’re in practice.”
Even though Dr. Chernoff is going to stop delivering babies at the end of this year, he plans to continue practicing medicine. Aside from the babies he’s delivered, Dr. Chernoff says one of the best things he’s seen in medicine over the decades is longer lifespans.
“People are living longer now, into their nineties. A hundred years ago, they were lucky to live into their seventies. That’s what’s amazing about medicine,” he says, attributing the increase in lifespan to new drugs for diseases like multiple sclerosis, depression and cancer; new technology like x-rays, MRIs and PET scans; and innovations in surgery.
“There weren’t enough resources 25 or 30 years ago when I started practice,” he says. “People with heart disease would get drugs to keep their arteries open, and often they’d die before their time because they didn’t have access to an angioplasty or by-pass surgery.”
One of the most motivating things Dr. Chernoff has seen in his career is the patients who, against all odds, pull through.
“When you see someone who should have died of their disease and they live for many years because of the treatment they’ve had, that’s pretty neat,” he says.
In addition to his private practice and role as head of family medicine, Dr. Chernoff also works as an on-call doctor for uranium and potash mines across Saskatchewan; sits on a family practitioner’s committee that interprets electrocardiograms, a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart; and reviews malpractice suits as an expert in family medicine for Medico Legal. In the past, he participated in Shaw’s “Doctor on Call” health show once a week for four years to talk about common medical problems, maladies and ailments; and performed laser and skin surgery at the Midwest Laser Centre.
The advice Dr. Chernoff gives patients is simple.
“Look after yourself. Preserve your mental health by working hard and playing hard, and exercise – that’s a big thing!” he says with a hearty chuckle.
Advice he lives by.
When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chernoff likes to play golf, walk the dog, watch TSN/Sportsnet, read Dean Koontz and Stephen King, travel to exotic locations, and spend time with his wife, Shannon, and three adult children: Mark, Brett and Kendra.