She’s passionate about rural medicine, a much-loved doctor in her small town, and now, Saskatchewan’s physician of the year.

On May 6, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) announced that Dr. Crystal Litwin, a family physician from Wynyard, was named their Physician of the Year.

The announcement was made at the SMA awards banquet at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina.

Dr. Crystal Litwin (left) accepts the Physician of the Year award from Dr. Mark Brown, Past President of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. Photo courtesy SMA.

Dr. Crystal Litwin (left) accepts the Physician of the Year award from Dr. Mark Brown, Past President of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. Photo courtesy SMA.

Dr. Litwin was born and raised in Saskatchewan. She attended medical school at the University of Saskatchewan and has worked in Wynyard as a family physician for the past 20 years. She is also the chief of staff at the Wynyard Integrated Hospital, a Saskatoon Health Region facility.

“I am incredibly honoured and humbled to be Saskatchewan’s Physician of the Year for 2016,” Litwin said in her acceptance speech. “This was so unexpected and I truly do not feel I am deserving of this acknowledgement. I know I’m not the smartest, nor the most skilled family physician, but what I’ve tried to offer my patients over the years is as follows: to listen attentively, to not dismiss their concerns, to spend whatever time with them they require, to try to earn their trust, to commit to work hard on their behalf, to give them or get them the care that they need, to know my limitations and seek others’ expertise when necessary, to be patient and realize that many things don’t have an instant fix, and to provide comfort, emotional and spiritual support when required.”

Three Wynyard nurses – Cheryl Brewster, Michael Jordan and Debra Koshinsky – nominated Litwin for the award.

“Dr. Litwin has become the mainstay of our health-care team. Her exceptional standard of care is worthy for all of the medical and nursing community to emulate,” they wrote. “Often working with few resources, both human and equipment, this overworked family doctor has continued to honour the Hippocratic Oath she took many years ago.”

The three also commended Dr. Litwin for her commitment to her rural roots. Litwin is involved with her husband and two children in several community activities including the Wynyard Skating Club, the Quill Plains Music Festival and the Hopak Ukrainian Dance Club.

Professionally, Dr. Litwin is unwavering in her commitment to serving the people of Wynyard and surrounding area. She showed significant foresight and determination in establishing the primary health-care model in Wynyard, which has been extended to the nearby Day Star First Nation.

“It is rare these days to have a family physician stay in a rural community for more than a couple of years,” wrote Paul Lendzyk, executive director of the Wynyard Community Clinic in its nomination paper. “In the past 20 years, many family physicians have come and gone, but the one physician you can always count on is Dr. Litwin.”

“I feel extremely humbled, grateful and honored for this acknowledgement especially since I was nominated by great members of my health care team – nurses, office staff and our clinic board,” Litwin said. “I’m just a small town doc trying to do the best I can for my patients with the resources we have available to us.”

In her acceptance speech, Litwin acknowledged the strength of her local health team, from her physician colleagues and office staff to the nursing team at the hospital, to the cooks in the kitchen who are kind enough to bring her lunch when the emergency room is busy and she doesn’t have time to go for lunch.

“We know each other well, our strengths and our weaknesses,” she said. “We’ve got each other’s backs. We all try our best to serve our patients together.”

Dr. Litwin is a tireless advocate for rural medicine.

“Rural family medicine has certainly been challenging, anxiety producing, hard work and frustrating at times, but extremely rewarding nonetheless,” Litwin said. “Working in a small town as a family physician enables you to build strong connections with your patients and your community.”

Because people know her on a much more personal level, Litwin interacts with many people in her community socially as well.

“Some patients become friends and some friends become patients out of necessity. As such, there is deep caring and concern that goes both ways,” she says. “We celebrate the births of children, cure of disease, and medical goal accomplishments together. We also grieve and share bad news and tragedies together… I think it is wonderful to care for patients and families from pediatrics to geriatrics, to follow them along the continuum of life.”

No two days are alike when it comes to family medicine in rural Saskatchewan.

“You never know who’s going to walk into the ER: a multi-victim trauma, a farmer who’s ignored his enlarging ulcerating skin cancer because he’s had work to do, the cardiac arrest, the wheezing toddler, the overdosed teenager, the senior with dementia who’s just not coping well at home anymore, or the many worried people we see every day,” said Litwin. ”At times, we need to be the social worker, or the addictions counselor, or the psychotherapist because we just don’t have the services available locally. We do the best we can with what we have.”

Litwin contributes to the practice of medicine in Saskatchewan through her involvement with the SMA, as an evaluator for the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment (SIPPA) program, and as a mentor to many.

“Many physicians in Saskatchewan go above and beyond the call of duty and truly exemplify what it means to live the calling of a physician. It’s important to recognize and celebrate exemplary service,” says Dr. Intheran Pillay, newly installed president of the SMA. “Dr. Litwin is an exceptional family physician who is passionate about rural practice and serving the people of this province.”

The SMA Physician of the Year award, first presented in 2002, recognizes the valuable contribution and service of an outstanding Saskatchewan physician. The nominee must be an SMA member and be living in Saskatchewan at the time of the nomination. The physician’s contributions can be made in the medical profession or volunteer sector and can be to a community or district, or at the provincial, national or international level, either during a particular time or throughout that physician’s career.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (www.sma.sk.ca) is a voluntary, member-based, professional association for physicians, medical students and residents in the province and it is the provincial chapter of the Canadian Medical Association.