Psychiatrist’s family-centred care is improving eating disorder outcomes for children and youth
Wendy Spettigue, MD, FRCPC, is this year’s recipient of the Prix d’excellence — Specialist of the Year award for Region 3
Sometimes physicians find their specialty, other times the specialty finds them. The latter case applies to Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Wendy Spettigue, and the field of eating disorders in children and youth is much stronger for it.
“I just fell into it,” she says. Dr. Spettigue arrived at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) 20 years ago for a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, looking at connections between mental and physical health. Her supervisor was working with many anorexia nervosa patients and she so enjoyed working with these young people, it became her career.
Today, Dr. Spettigue is seen as a trailblazer in compassionate, family-centred care for children and youth with eating disorders. At CHEO, she built and leads a program based on partnering with families. This includes day programs and an in-patient program where parents choose the menu for their children, decide on passes and are welcome to sleep in the in-patient ward.
Under her direction, the specialized eating disorders team at CHEO grew to seven physicians and 54 full-time and part-time members. It’s regarded provincially, nationally and internationally as a role model for other programs. In 2012, the team was named by CHEO as a “Centre of Excellence” at the hospital.
Her commitment to broadening awareness of eating disorders in children and youth has made Dr. Spettigue a frequent presenter on the topic in Canada and internationally.
“She has a remarkable ability to communicate in a way that ensures the understanding of any listener, and she does so without condescension and while always maintaining professional boundaries,” says Ahmed Boachie, MD, FRCPC, medical director, Eating Disorders Program and Day Hospital Program at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont.
Dr. Spettigue’s commitment to sharing and dialogue also shapes her daily interactions with team members. “She makes herself available to all team members and has provided an immeasurable amount of support and learning to team members over the years,” says Mark Norris, MD, FRCPC, CHEO Research Institute investigator and associate professor of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa.
Dr. Spettigue says much still remains to be done to bring eating disorders more fully into discussions on mental illness.
“I’d like to get the message out that as rates of depression and anxiety rise, rates of eating disorders are rising too, as they go hand in hand. We mustn’t ignore the importance of nutrition, along with sleep, in helping young people to be well.”