Q&A with Dr. L. Fourie Smith

Dr. L. Fourie SmithMeet Doctors Manitoba’s President Elect

by Robin Summerfield

Dr. L. Fourie Smith is a devoted family physician based in St. Vital in Winnipeg. Originally from South Africa, Dr. Smith and his wife, Anza, came to Canada in 1998, ultimately settling in Vita, in southeast Manitoba. Recruited by the Southern Health Region, Dr. Smith flourished as a rural doctor, living in the community for six years. Today, the 48-year-old father of two works with a multi-disciplinary team of physicians at the Dakota Medical Centre in Winnipeg. Dr. Smith was recently installed as the new president-elect on the Board of Directors for Doctors Manitoba. We wanted to get to know him better.

What’s your fondest memory of growing up?

The honest answer? Standing up to the school bully in grade 10. He won the fight but he paid the price. His reputation was ruined. Changed my life and the life of some of the other kids for the remainder of our high school careers.

Besides family, what do you miss most about South Africa?

Braaivleis (a South African-style open-fire barbecue with grilled meat), great weather, rugby, cricket, telling jokes in Afrikaans. I love Canada. I am a Canadian Citizen. I would not go back for all the tea in China but I miss home every day.

What place do you want to visit most? And why?

I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively as a physician. My favourite country is Italy and my favourite place is the Amalfi Coast. The people, the food, the weather, the wine, the scenery. It’s unbeatable.

Why did you want to become a doctor?

All the credit belongs to Hawkeye Pierce; the funny, well liked, skilled, rebellious, always in command, life-saving surgeon from the TV Series M*A*S*H. I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk around in his robe all day long, save lives, sip martinis, rebel against authority and be the favourite doctor of all the nurses on staff? a teacher? A police officer? Or firefighter? There’s a common theme: people and responsibility.

What was the moment in your medical career, where you realized ‘I love my job?’

I am unable to recall a specific moment in time. Being a physician was really all I ever wanted to be. I knew intuitively there would be good times and bad and I was ready for it. That is why I never assigned much value to either the highlights or lowlights of my career.

What do you love to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy a good Old Fashioned, made by a bartender who knows their stuff. I love following the Winnipeg Jets, especially the young prospects. I love looking at the stats, reading blogs and so on. Yeah, I know. As if I don’t have better things to do with my time! But most of all, I love watching a good movie with my wife, relaxed in front of the big screen. Nothing better.

What has been the hardest thing about being a doctor?

Witnessing the sacrifices my family make on a daily basis as I pursue my career. You pay a price being a physician. If you don’t, then you are doing something wrong. Problem is, your family pays that price with you.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about physician burnout. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

Physician burnout is a sad reality of the profession. Fortunately, there has been a lot of work done on this front across Canada. Doctors Manitoba has been  fortunate to have physicians like Dr. Pravin Mehta and Dr. Gigi Osler lead the way in terms of physician health and wellness. There is still a lot of work to do but things are looking better. As for myself, I have to confess I am not the poster boy for ‘work-life balance,’ but I am working on it.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My wife, my son, my daughter. Not something I possess but something I was blessed with.

Who do you admire?

The man who not only talks the talk but actually walks the walk.

What do you despise?

I have no use or sympathy for a lazy person. But most of all, I despise selling out when things get difficult.

What’s your best character trait?

A question best answered by those who know me. Having said that, I believe I have developed the ability to critically evaluate myself on a daily basis and with that the recognition that falling short of my own expectations is not necessarily a failure. Giving up, lying down, not having expectations, that will be the failure. What defines us is not out successes or failures but the choices we make along the way.

What’s your idea of success?

As a physician, it is easy to fall into the success trap. Make a checklist of necessary achievements, chase them down, compare yourself to others, ensure financial security, get published. The list goes on and on. I consciously walk away from those things. Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”