Dr. Olivier Mailloux’s military training proves invaluable for his work bringing change to rural practice
Dr. Olivier Mailloux is the recipient of the 2021 Royal College Award for Early-Career Leadership in Professional Practice / Patient Care
As a child, Olivier Mailloux, MD, LMCC, FRCSC, FACS, dreamed of military service. But he also wanted a medical career. In the end, he pursued both and the blend has helped him develop as a better leader in health care.
“It’s really enriching,” the surgeon, military reservist and father of three young children says of the combination. “I went into military training [in 2015] and got many leadership skills like conflict resolution and planning. All those learnings from the military side passively went through my civilian practice and gave me the structure I didn’t receive during my medical education.”
For his leadership in enhancing surgical services and training opportunities in Baie-Comeau, Que., Dr. Mailloux is the 2021 recipient of the Royal College Award for Early-Career Leadership in Professional Practice / Patient Care.
Using military skills to improve longitudinal care in rural Quebec
Administrative leadership is not taught, says Dr. Mailloux, “but we are asked to step up and take on those roles without the tools we are supposed to have. The military, in my case, gave me those skills.”
In turn, he used them to address gaps in surgical services after arriving in Baie-Comeau, Que., in 2013, notably leading the development of a bariatric surgery program for the region.
Previously Côte-Nord patients had to go to Quebec City or Rimouski for bariatric surgery, hindering access and follow up. In close collaboration with the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute, Dr. Mailloux established a program offering better surgical standards and longitudinal care.
“He also worked in collaboration with Innu communities, in particular those of Pessamit, in order to adapt the service offered to this population,” says Hélène Milot, MD, FRCSC, head of General Surgery at Hôpital de Baie-Comeau.
Beyond bariatric surgery, Dr. Mailloux also helped increase other local services with his training in complex hernia repair and advanced laparoscopy.
University connections help build academic culture
Keeping close connections with faculty at Laval University proved indispensable in making the changes Dr. Mailloux knew were needed in Baie-Comeau. Those relationships helped him organize a “mini-fellowship” in bariatric surgery for himself and colleagues in 2019. He invited several professors from the university to operate in Baie-Comeau, transferring knowledge to the entire surgical team.
“It took five years of administration but once we got approval [for the bariatric program], again with the good connection with Laval University, it was easy to create that mini-fellowship.”
The advantage of rural placements for medical residents
When you go into rural practice, it’s easy to feel more distant from academic centres. But in Baie-Comeau, that wasn’t the case for Dr. Mailloux. He built upon the academic culture provided through the family medicine centre there, which allowed the surgical team to be part of Laval’s surgical teaching.
“We approached the program to add some General Surgery residents,” he says. “We got colleagues on board and now have one or two a year for three-month rotations.”
The academic culture is “really good for us and we want to maintain and expand it,” he says.
There’s a rural advantage for medical residents who come to Baie-Comeau, he notes, as they get rich exposure. “It’s a really good atmosphere.”
In that regard, Dr. Mailloux sees rural placements as a largely untapped resource for medical schools. But awareness is changing.
Rural placements, he says, help provide a more “complete program” for physician training. Family doctors with these experiences, for example, “are more equipped to be alone in autonomous practice and learn to work in partnership with specialists.”
Reviving St. John Ambulance — a local success story
Dr. Mailloux says his mother set a strong example in volunteerism and, after starting his practice in Baie-Comeau, he felt he should do more for the community. The local St. John Ambulance unit had closed as part of an administrative overhaul of the organization in Quebec 10 years earlier, and Dr. Mailloux wanted to reopen it.
“St. John Ambulance was exactly what I was looking for in a volunteer role,” he says. “It provides a valuable vantage point for the continuum of care.”
Getting the local group up and running again took three years. It’s been a local success story with the 11th volunteer recently enrolled. The local team provided care for three events in August 2021 and is getting contracts for long-term services.
“People are engaged and things are growing because people are so great and generous of their time,” he says.