Dr. Amy Tan

Avenue Calgary’s 2017 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych

Age: 39

Job title: Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary; Family Physician

Why she’s a 2017 Top 40 Under 40:

Dr. Tan helps to improve advance-care planning and communications about end-of-life planning as a lead investigator of a multi-provincial study and has developed a framework used by the University of Alberta to teach doctors to talk about how to make end-of-life decisions.

In December 2002, Amy Tan, then a newlywed medical resident, skidded on black ice as she drove to work. Her car crashed, landing upside down under a bridge.

While Tan was too disoriented to make decisions, doctors asked her husband if she would want a risky surgery. He had to guess what she’d choose – they’d never discussed what either wanted in case of a serious medical condition.

“My hope is that with advance-care planning, people will not be put in the situation that I put my husband in,” says Tan, now an associate professor at the University of Calgary and a family physician who works in a teaching clinic in the city’s northeast and provides palliative care services at several local hospices and in patients’ homes.

Her accident required a seven-month leave of absence from her training and taught her life is precious. “It cannot be taken for granted. As corny and clich as that is, literally, things can change,” she snaps her fingers, “like that.”

Motivated in part by her own experience, Tan is a passionate proponent of better advance-care planning for Canadians. She developed a framework to help physicians talk to surrogate decision-makers of dying patients about how to make informed decisions, which is now used in the University of Alberta medical school curriculum.

The local lead investigator and national co-lead for a multi-provincial study backed by a $2.7 million grant, Tan is spearheading a large study in family medicine clinics to identify the people most likely to make major health-care decisions in the next two years and get them to engage in advance-care planning. “It’s a gift we can give our loved ones, to tell them what we would want,” she says.

In addition to her regular clinic, Tan supports Calgary’s Palliative Home Care Program as a family physician by visiting housebound patients living with serious or terminal illnesses. This past summer, she received a Janus Research Grant for $11,000 from the College of Family Physicians of Canada to interview and conduct focus groups with the medical professionals who provide palliative care and the patients and families of patients who need it. The project will aim to get a “360-degree view” of the community-based primary palliative care experience in Calgary and the surrounding rural areas and find ways to better support family physicians to provide palliative care to housebound patients.

People often think palliative care is a depressing career choice, but it’s actually the opposite, Tan says. “It is very life-fulfilling because I am privileged to walk with people at such a hard time in their life.”

Her routine differs every day, with a busy travel schedule and multiple clinics around the city. She gets through it thanks to her online calendar, a lot of coffee and her husband and son. “I could not do this without their support,” Tan says. -Christina Frangou

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