I am the I in IWK: Drs. Angela Giacomantonio and Rachel Shaw

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Drs. Angela Giacomantonio (she/her) and Rachel Shaw (she/her) are two family physicians at IWK Health—a role that can sometimes come as a surprise.

Left: Dr. Angela Giacomantonio (she/her). Right: Dr. Rachel Shaw (she/her).

While Giacomantonio and Shaw work together in a busy community practice in Spryfield, they also provide services at the IWK in newborn and maternal health as part of a team of family physicians. IWK family physicians provide low-risk obstetrical care, deliver babies, and care for those newborns and their mothers after they are born. They run the Primary Maternity Care Group (PMC) which operates a 24/7 on-call service within the hospital and provide newborn care for most of the babies born to families followed by the obstetricians.

Giacomantonio and Shaw share their prenatal practice, allowing patients to alternate their appointments with both physicians from the time they’re referred/self-referred to the time of delivery and discharge from the hospital. This continuity of experience with patients is one of the things Shaw values most.

“Easily my favourite aspect of family medicine are the relationships we develop with our patients,” says Shaw. “The ability to follow patients through their pregnancies and be a part of the delivery of the is the most incredible experience. I then have the privilege to follow their children and growing families.”

For Giacomantonio, the magic of bringing new life into the world is second-to-none.

“Watching parents experience the birth of their children, witnessing the joy and emotion on their faces and in their reaction is such a special and sacred experience,” says Giacomantonio. “I feel incredibly lucky that I am trusted enough by my patients to be a part of that life-changing moment. There is not a more magical moment in medicine, in my opinion, than the moment a baby is born.”

But family medicine isn’t without its trials and the additional pressures brought on by a global pandemic challenged both providers and patients further in recent years. Both Giacomantonio and Shaw experienced increased challenges in supporting their patients through new access limitations and restrictions. COVID-19 also highlighted the systematic challenges experienced by families with limited resources and greater need for support.

“Family medicine, particularly in the era of COVID-19, is challenging because our system is very strained and many people have experienced negative impacts of COVID-19 including social, emotional, economic, health impacts that do not have an easy solution,” says Giacomantonio. “It can be hard knowing what the issue is but not being able to fix it because of systemic, economic or social issues that are beyond our control, even when we advocate for change.”

Despite the challenges, there are far more bright sides than dark ones in family medicine, like teammates, and hope for the future.

“I work with amazing colleagues who are an absolute joy to work with—it’s like a large family,” Shaw says. “After challenging days, I know I’m going back to a supportive team that will help me get back up and running the next day.”

“The future of family medicine at the IWK is bright,” says Giacomantonio. “I hope to see it continue to provide excellent maternal and newborn care alongside our obstetrical and midwifery colleagues.”

May 19 is Family Doctor Day.