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Dr. Deborah McLeod helping patients and professionals

For Dr. Deborah McLeod, helping extends beyond supporting cancer patients and their families to better cope with the stress of the disease. Dr. McLGroup photoeod’s reach also extends to colleagues across the country who want to enhance their own knowledge and skills to support patients better.

A member of the Psychosocial Oncology Team at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax, Dr. McLeod is a clinician scientist who divides her time between patient care, research, and teaching. Her work includes counselling patients and family members who are
L-R: The Hon. Maureen MacDonald, Minister of Health and Wellness, 2011 Innovation Award winner, Dr. Deborah McLeod, and Rev. David Maginley, Chaplain, Spiritual Care, Capital Health
struggling with a devastating diagnosis and disease. “Our team responds to anyone who has cancer-related distress. This includes such things as anxiety, depression, and family problems or simply feeling overwhelmed by the disease,” explains Dr. McLeod.

It also involves concerns related to sexual health. “Issues around sexual health have always been a problem, but there is more awareness about it today,” says Dr. McLeod, whose specialty is working with individuals and couples on sexuality concerns as a result of cancer. “Sexuality is sometimes ignored when people are dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.”

Dr. McLeod was presented with the 2011 CCNS Innovation Excellence Award for her work with patients, their families and health professionals. The Excellence Awards, introduced in 2009 to mark the 10th anniversary of Cancer Care Nova Scotia, acknowledge the expertise and commitment of people like Dr. McLeod who have helped the organization further cancer prevention, treatment, and care for Nova Scotia patients and their families.

Individuals are referred to Dr. McLeod and her colleagues by the person’s primary care team. “The primary care team may notice a patient is struggling or patients may speak up themselves,” notes Dr. McLeod. “Often, we can see patients within a few weeks of referral and sooner if there is a serious crisis.”

Once in treatment and patients get the support they need, people often see some benefits very quickly.”

The care patients receive is tailored to their specific needs and situation, she adds. “There are all kinds of ways to help people.”

A lot of the work for individuals with sexual health concerns is educational,” says Dr. McLeod. “More than anything, my job is to help people to talk about the issues and obtain necessary information to address the concerns.”

Deborah and Ian McLeodPatients aren’t the only ones being educated. Professionals across the country are also learning more thanks to an innovative program called the Interprofessional Psychosocial Oncology Distance Education (IPODE). IPODE, an initiative of the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, addresses education gaps in psychosocial oncology through the development of web-based courses.
L-R: Mr. Ian McLeod (husband),
Dr. Deborah McLeod

The courses are offered as graduate-level electives through partner universities and as continuing education options. They combine independent learning activities with real-time weekly seminars for small groups of learners and provide participants with opportunities to examine theory and research in specific areas, including: assessing for distress, helping patients and their families manage things like anxiety, grief and issues like fatigue and sleep problems. Learners study recently published Canadian clinical practice guidelines in many of these areas.

Dr. McLeod has been the national project lead of IPODE since its inception in 2006. “To date, 700 people have taken courses,” she says. The program has brought health professionals from across the country and from different disciplines together and has enabled us to learn from one another.”

Bringing people together to understand issues better and ease the cancer journey for patients and families is at the heart of why Dr. McLeod does what she does.