St. Marys, Ontario | Canada
Ask The Docs: Dr. Sarah Donaldson, Dr. Tamara Foster,Dr. Michael Trevail, Dr. Rachael Berta | St. Marys Healthcare Foundation

— Stories: Ask the Docs —

Ask the Docs

Four doctors tell us why they chose St. Marys

We sat down with the four family doctors who are the most recent additions to the Happy Valley Family Health Team. We wanted to learn more about the healthcare community in St. Marys and why family practitioners are so excited about the primary care model being developed here. This is what they had to say…

Dr. Sarah Donaldson
Practising medicine for 1.5 years

Dr. Tamara Foster
Practising medicine for 3.5 years 

Dr Michael Trevail

Dr. Michael Trevail
Practising medicine for 6 years

Dr. Rachael Berta


What does the rebuild project mean to you?

As a new physician practicing in St. Marys, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to practice in a hospital that is valued and supported by the community. I have worked in the Emergency Department and the Inpatient Unit for 9 months now and I am certain that the proposed changes in the hospital renewal project will greatly improve patient care. Renovating the patient rooms to include the necessities of a modern hospital will mean that patients are more comfortable and that staff are capable of providing the standard of care. For example, in the ER, some of the patient rooms are not equipped with working otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes, lights to look in ears and eyes.  Using a portable, plug in light makes it cumbersome to complete these examinations. Having all the equipment needed at the head of the bed will simply make care easier and more efficient. In addition, adding sanitation stations will be a huge benefit to improve infection control to the current standard. Many of the rooms do not have a sink for staff to use to wash their hands if soiled. This change would reduce the spread of infectious diseases and also allow for patients to wash their hands with soap and water in every room if needed. The addition of a negative pressure isolation room is necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This need has really been brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the virus can be more easily spread during certain procedures without negative pressure ventilation. To continue without this puts patients and staff at risk. To summarize, I look forward to living and practicing in St. Marys for many years to come and I believe that the generous work of the foundation will greatly improve the quality of patient and staff experience at our hospital. 


When you were deciding where to practice medicine, what were the reasons behind your decision to come to St. Marys?

I had a two-month rotation in St. Marys as a resident and could tell immediately that it was a great place to work. All of the physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and administrative staff were so supportive during my residency rotation. I knew I wanted to practice comprehensive medicine, and in St. Marys, all of the physicians do this. I really enjoy the balance of clinic work, inpatients, ER, house calls and nursing home care. Every day is different, and that always keeps things interesting.

I sought to practice in a community in that would allow for continuity of care among my patients throughout their lives… The clinic setting in St. Marys allows me to provide well baby care that continues throughout childhood, adulthood and seamlessly transitions to geriatric-focused care later in life including nursing home care and palliative house calls.

For me, the diversity of practice options were so important – the ER, in-patient and nursing home care are all unique practices that I found interesting. Not to mention the up-to-date facilities which are very unique to this community.


Were there aspects of the existing community healthcare that drew you to St. Marys?

The whole set up in St. Marys is excellent. The clinic** and hospital being attached to one another is a unique arrangement that has many benefits. For example, if a very sick patient, such as a trauma, comes into the ER during the day, every physician in the clinic will come over to help, and can be there in less than a minute. As a new graduate, this has made me feel very supported from the get-go.

It was obvious, even as a resident, that the communication lines between the physicians and the community were excellent. The St. Marys Healthcare Foundation is always asking what we feel we need to provide better healthcare. I felt immediately welcomed in the community by fellow physicians, other health professionals and patients.

The St. Marys group of physicians truly do function as a team and this largely drew me to join the group. When there is a sick patient in the emergency room, not one but six or seven other physicians will run over to the emergency room to assist – dropping all of their other responsibilities to help a colleague. There is a constant dialogue amongst physicians … to review the latest guidelines and seek advice on various aspects of patient care. I can’t imagine a more collegial atmosphere to work.


Since joining the Happy Valley Family Health Team, have you discovered any new healthcare benefits in this community that you think locals should know about?

The close relationship that we have with the specialists and resources in Stratford benefits patients greatly in terms of access to timely imaging and appointments for specialist referrals. I have trained in many different health care settings in Ontario and across Canada and I feel that the health care resources*** we have available to us in the area are quite superior to many other communities in terms of wait times and access to specialists. We also know many of the specialists personally and this relationship allows for clear and collegial communication between health care providers.

I have to mention the excellent allied health providers, both within the Family Health Team as well as in the community. The resources provided by Stonetown Physiotherapy, St. Marys Rehab and the Pyramid Recreation Centre are a great addition to healthcare in the community.

As I have gained experience in practice, I have realized just how important additional services are to patients, especially when patients do not have private health insurance for things such as counselling. We have an incredible group of allied health professionals - nurse practitioners, social workers, dietician, pharmacist, addictions counsellor, smoking cessation counsellor - and many programs run by nurses. These things are so valuable for our patients and community. I feel that we are very lucky having all of these services available in our small town.


What would you say are the reasons for the thriving healthcare community here in St. Marys?

I see how engaged and passionate this community is about healthcare. Having strong community leaders like the St. Marys Health care Foundation is also a major factor. This is supported by strong primary care and the St. Marys Memorial Hospital which meets the needs of the community.

The St. Marys Healthcare Foundation and the generous community play a huge role in keeping the healthcare community alive in St. Marys. I could not get over how successful the “Someone I Know” campaign was in the community, and it was amazing to see so many donors who are committed to growing our local healthcare community.

I do feel that the thriving healthcare community in St Marys is driven by a few different important factors. The St. Marys Healthcare Foundation is very active in terms of its support of the clinic and hospital. We also have a very dedicated inpatient and outpatient nursing and clerical team which have a positive impact daily on our patients and their families. The leadership provided by the physicians also allows us to advocate for the needs of our community.


What excites you about the future of healthcare in St. Marys?

I am very excited for the expansion of our building****, because this will allow us to continue to grow. Many of us enjoy teaching students and residents, but currently our space can be limited. I am also excited about some of the hospital updates that will be happening. I know that I can fully count on the Foundation to keep the facilities in St. Marys up-to-date, which will result in better patient care.

For me, I see the benefit of increasing the focus on teaching and training here at the Tradition Mutual Centre for Wellness and at the St. Marys Memorial Hospital. It is important for the future of healthcare in this community.


Are there any elements of local healthcare that you would like to see developed? Expanded upon? Created?

I would like there to be more educational events for patients in St. Marys. I believe that we really need to focus more on preventative care in family medicine, for example, healthy eating and exercise. As I stated above, I would also like to see our educational role expanded upon with more students and residents. There is quite a bit of research that shows that with more exposure to rural teaching sites in medical school, students are more likely to practice in a smaller town such as St. Marys. Hopefully this will help us recruit the best and brightest in the future to keep our healthcare system strong.

I think the continued focus on primary care should be expanded. Strong primary care is the backbone of a strong healthcare system.

Thank you to Dr. Foster, Dr. Trevail, Dr. Donaldson and Dr. Rachael Berta

for answering our questions about the Healthcare Community in St. Marys. To find out how you can support the St. Marys Healthcare Foundation please visit

**The Happy Valley Family Health Team operates out of the Tradition Mutual Centre for Wellness.

*** St. Marys Memorial Hospital is one of four sites under the Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance which allows for residents to access services at all four sites.

****The expansion of the Tradition Mutual Centre for Wellness is set to be completed in the summer of 2019.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the St. Marys Healthcare Foundation.