Twenty Questions with Dr. Tony Gabriel

Published on June 17, 2012
Dr. Tony Gabriel, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Dr. Tony Gabriel is still getting used to his new position as president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“(You’re) a little nervous at times because you’re always wondering whether you’re going to put your foot in your mouth or whether you’re going to say the right things or make a difference,” said Gabriel, who was named the NLMA’s 87th president earlier this month.

“There’s a lot of things happening that are very important when it comes to (health in) this province.”

Indeed, health care is the most expensive public service overseen by the provincial government at $2.4 billion annually. Most recently, health has garnered increased attention through Eastern Health’s announcement that it will eliminate 550 full-time-equivalent positions over the next two years in order to save $43 million.

In an interview with The Telegram shortly after he was named NLMA president, Gabriel said the organization has been working with government to review a variety of issues, including health care in smaller hospitals, the on-call system for physicians, psychiatric wait times, and the referral procedure between family doctors and specialists.

A graduate of Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1990, Gabriel first began practising at the Gander Medical Clinic in 1992 and has remained there ever since. He lives in Gander with his wife, Sherry Gabriel, and their 12-year-old daughter Ellen.

Twitter: TeleAndrew

What is your full name?

“Anthony Michael Gabriel.”


Where and when were you born?

“I was born August, 1965 in Stephenville Crossing.”


What’s an act of rebellion you committed

in your youth?

“I don’t know that I rebelled very much. I was pretty much a conformist. The first thing that comes to mind is in Kindergarten — it was probably the worst thing I ever did — I walked ahead of the class, and the teacher gave me a smack on the wrist for it. That was probably as bad as I got. I was a very good boy. I was angelic — I lived up to my name I guess.”


What was your favourite year?

“My favourite year would have been 1992, which is the year I moved to Gander and started my life out there. I met my wife that year as well.”


Was there any nervousness

about going into your first practice?

“Yeah, there was definite nerves. Throwing up before my first delivery, and that was scary. You were doing a lot of things on your own and realizing ‘you’ were it. Again, very quickly you put those (things) behind you and move on, but it was a big transition for sure.”


What made you want to become a doctor?

“I was always one that was strong with the sciences, and medicine is certainly one of the major sciences. It’s very much a profession of people — working with people for people. I’d say that’s something I consider a strength of mine and an area I enjoy. I’ve done during my undergraduate work some lab work as well, and I must say I prefer working with people.”


What are you reading at the moment?

“There’s two books I’m reading right at the moment. One is ‘Eat to Live’ by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which is a book about all the benefits of eating plant-based foods and all the bad things about eating animal-based foods and all the science behind it. It’s quite eye-opening in terms of how our health is affected by what’s being put in our bodies.

Another is a mystery novel that my daughter bought for me at a garage sale. She thought I might like it, so she brought it home. She kept asking me for weeks and weeks, ‘Have you started reading my book yet? Have you started reading it.’ I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m in a pre-contemplative stage. I would think if I can develop a bit more willpower, then I will definitely go in that direction before I am too much older — if I want to get a lot older. It would be a great way to live.”


If you could change one thing about health care

in the province, what would it be?

“I’d like to see better health care in the rural areas of this province. There’s not the same level out there as you would get in the bigger centres. It would be nice if we could see an enhancement so if you live in a small rural community, that you’re going to get just as well treated, and not necessarily just physician care, but other support services.

Working in Gander, I’ve got a lot of patients that live out in Wesleyville, Hare Bay, and even on Fogo Island. They have to put a lot more effort and miles on cars to get some of the services that you can easily get in Gander or, for sure, in St. John’s. A lot of times, the services they’d like to have they just can’t get, because the travel just makes it impossible. You can’t very well drive to a physio in Gander to get treatment for your bad back — you’re going to do more damage driving back-and-forth in the car. That’s frustrating, for sure.”


Are there any particular positive changes

you’ve noticed in health care

over the last 20 years you’ve worked?

“As much as I’d like to see things improve in the rural areas, I’ve seen improvements in some of the services that are available outside of St. John’s. In Gander I’ve seen newer technologies. I’ve seen some stabilization of the health services that are available as well. And not just medical — ancillary services like physio and chiropractic. I’ve seen an improvement in what’s available to people for their health care. ... When I first went to Gander, there was no massage therapist at all, and there was one physiotherapist. So a lot of those services have really improved over the years, and there’s an improvement in what services are available at our local hospital for patients in the community and the region. That’s a good thing to see. There’s still a lot of things we need to see improve, but it’s nice to be able to say there’s been an improvement in the availability of services.”


What are some musical artists

that you’re enjoying these days?

“Marianas Trench. I like them. They’re a newer-to-me (band). I know they’ve been around for a few years. My daughter is 12, and she brings a lot of new music into the house, and I must say, we have very similar tastes. I tend to like everything she’s listening to very much so. I like Rihanna. Adele is great. There’s a new song out now, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know,’ (by) Gotye and Kimbra. I really love that song. And, of course, Train is great. Maroon 5 is fantastic.”


What’s your pet peeve?

“When people are speaking, they keep saying, ‘You know? You know? You know?’ It makes up about half the words that come out of their mouth during a conversation, especially on the radio or TV, so that’s definitely a pet peeve. I try not to be doing the same thing myself, and I’m not sure how successful I am in that regard.”


Do you have a hidden talent?

“Hmmm. Singing maybe? I was in a choir this past year, and we had a big show, and I ended up doing a duet with another fellow, and it got rave reviews. It was probably more because we were hamming it up, singing (Neil Diamond’s) ‘Sweet Caroline.’ The elevator platform shoes I was wearing certainly got a big notice. (Laughs) That was fun. Two weeks ago we did that, and it was an absolute ball.”


If you were not a doctor,

what do you think you’d be doing?

“I think I’d like to be a teacher. I really think I would like to have done that. I wasn’t really doing any studies that pushed me in that direction, but I find a lot of what I do as a physician is very (much) as a teacher. As a parent too, you do a lot of teaching in everyday life.”


If you could go anywhere in the world,

where would you go?

“I would go to Machu Picchu in Peru. That would be neat. Just the mystery of it. The ancientness of it. It’s an area of the world where so much was going on so long ago that we really just don’t fully understand. It was a huge civilization, and again, it wasn’t in the cradle of humanity in Africa. It was all the way over in South America, up in the mountains. There are so many things about it that are off the beaten track of what we’re used to when you think about ancient civilizations.”


What’s the hardest thing about being a doctor?

“Having to be on task, always. You have to be in fifth gear, because when someone sits down in the office with you, they expect you to be at your best, and they expect to have suitable answers to their questions, and a suitable plan of action. Hopefully, a cure. Then, when you’re finished with that situation and person, you’ve got to start all over again with somebody else. There’s no down time. And if you’re not seeing a patient, you’re usually doing paperwork to try and get things done to speed up the care that someone is going to get — a referral letter, or trying to get the insurance forms that they need done so their disability benefits go through, or to have their life insurance approved. You’re always doing something on someone’s behalf, and they expect you to do your best all the time, so you always have to have your A-game. There’s no game other than your A-game. You can’t show up for work in third gear any day.”


What’s the best thing about being a doctor?

“Seeing how much you can help people, and seeing it come back. I was talking earlier (today) about having to go to a funeral home twice over the last couple of weeks for patients of mine I’d known fairly well, and the look on the faces of the family when I come through the door — I can see how much they appreciated my being there.  ... It makes you realize you’re doing some good for them. On some days, you wonder if you really helped anybody or done anything that’s been of any value, but when you see that you do actually make a difference and that people appreciate that you have an important part to play in helping them with their health needs, it’s really nice to see that.”


Who inspires you?

“My wife and my daughter. Very much so.”


What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not at the office?

“I would say choir. Over the last year I’ve done a fair bit of work in our choir. It’s just a community choir, but I must say, I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s something that’s completely non-medicine, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. We don’t do enough of it. I joined it for something different, and it just sort of took off as an interest. I spent a lot of time practising singing for our year-end event that happened, so I’ve logged a lot of hours.”


What’s your favourite place in Newfoundland and Labrador?

“Corner Brook. It’s a beautiful city. Some people may not say that, but I love the fact it’s like it’s in a big bowl. I lived there when I was a kid, and that probably romanticizes it a bit, but I’ve always loved Corner Brook.”


What’s your most treasured possession?

“I’d say my camper, right now. That would be my most valuable possession in terms of the importance. We’ve had it for the last three-or-four years, and we’ve done a lot of camping. It’s been a great experience. All around the province, we’ve gone to a lot of places and met different people. It’s been an absolute hoot. My wife pushed me to do it. She said, ‘You’ve always wanted to camp.’ I don’t think she wanted to camp nearly as much as I did, but again, she convinced me that we needed to do this, and we’ve had a ball as a family.”