Meet Your Neighbours – Dr. Gordon Henderson: Passing the Torch, Keeping the Passion

by Anne Miller | photo courtesy Shoreline Medical – 

Remember school dances in the 70s? This story begins around 1977, on stage in Kamloops, when Gordon Henderson and fellow musicians assembled a rock-and-roll band they called Steamer, playing locally, then basing themselves in Toronto and performing across Canada. With Gordon as vocalist, song-writer and guitarist/pianist, the band gained popularity, signed a record deal with RCA, made three albums and, at one point, toured with The Guess Who, Stonebolt and Steppenwolf. Gordon was the Canadian representative in the World International Song Festival in South Korea in 1981. Exciting times!

Little did Gordon know at the time that his stint as a musician would pivot dramatically to a new career in medicine eight years later. He studied at Queen’s University, then returned to B.C. where he married Lorna and they raised their three sons. Recognizing a need in the community of Sidney, Gordon set up a combined walk in/family practice clinic which grew quickly with the addition of two valued colleagues, all establishing family practices as well as a walk-in service. Recently, this site has expanded into the Shoreline Medical Centre, supported by the non-profit Shoreline Medical Society, in an attempt to both recruit young family physicians and address the worsening shortage of care. Shoreline remains the only walk-in clinic on the Saanich Peninsula.

Gordon has witnessed, indeed experienced, many changes that have impacted the B.C. health care system over the past three decades. He weighs in on our current health care system and, given his first-hand experience, he’s a voice worth listening to. Like many of us, he has concerns. “Everyone Deserves a Family Doctor” is both a lawn sign and a sentiment reflecting the fact that nearly one million British Columbians are without a family doctor. Gordon knows this is more than problematic; it’s urgent.

Gordon is very concerned that our current health system has not kept pace with changing demographics or inflation. “Things are very different from 30 years ago. Today, we have an aging population with complex medical problems. The current, outdated fee-for-service model doesn’t reflect that.” It has not kept pace with the expense of running a clinic or the rising cost of living, such that it is no longer an attractive proposition for young family doctors (the fee-for-service has only increased an annual average of 1% over the last 30 years).

He explains: “When you work for yourself as an independent GP, it’s necessary to work long hours – 60 to 80 hours a week – to make a reasonable income.” Many family doctors are now practising telemedicine, introduced during Covid. Gordon feels strongly that while this can be a good option in certain circumstances, face-to-face visits offer much better comprehensive care and allow for a physical exam.

Young family physicians are understandably looking at a myriad of other options offered to them, such as working at hospitals or in Urgent Primary Care Clinics which offer fixed hours and better compensation. Even with the recently-introduced financial incentives offered to family medicine residents considering private practice in B.C., there have been few takers. This is reflected dramatically by the recent closures of multiple walk-in clinics throughout the Island. The result? An ever-increasing number of patients without access to longitudinal care, or sometimes even urgent care. Still, Gordon has great faith and hope in the younger generation of physicians coming up. They are a dedicated and brilliant group intent on contributing to their community. They are also aware that they need a reasonable expectation of a work/life balance and better compensation for what they do.

Gordon understands quality-of-life issues and has made a decision to leave medicine and join his wife in retirement. Now he plans to spend more time travelling, gardening and, coming full circle, re-engaging with his music. In a household with 12 guitars, six pianos, many amplifiers and a set of drums, that shouldn’t be difficult. “Time to let my hair grow out again and hit the road!”

Looking back on his medical career, Gordon acknowledges that his work has been extremely satisfying and has been proud to contribute to the Peninsula community. “The community has been very kind to me and my family. I’ve wanted to give back.” This is a value he shares with his sons. He encourages them to “find opportunities to give a bit more than you take.”
Thank you for giving so much to our community, Dr. Henderson. Catch you on the flip side!

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