As the associate head at Providence Health Care’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, and PhD candidate in experimental medicine at UBC, Dr. Rita McCracken is known for her work with the elderly. She studies polypharmacy in frail elders, has an interest in patients with HIV and has her own family practice. Dr. McCracken is also a scientist at the Centre for Health Evaluation and outcome Sciences (CHÉOS).
What drew you to your research in polypharmacy and frail elders?
There’s concern regarding the number of medications we’re exposing our frail elders to. I saw this in my own practice and went to the literature to learn about the right amount of treatment and found there was almost no research. I thought, ‘This isn’t right.’ In my PhD, I’m quantifying harms and benefits to make better decision-making tools.
How does your background play a role in your work in healthy aging?
I was raised in a big Catholic family and someone was always being born or dying. Later, at medical school, I was surprised at how death and aging, part of the normal life cycle, were ignored and maybe even feared. But I feel very comfortable working with this group of patients and feel privileged to have the opportunity.
Aging really is just one more stage of life, isn’t it?
It is. GPs understand that part of healthy aging is the realization that growing older is normal; that dying is normal. Every family doctor knows from the start that we are needed by our patients and their families at all stages of life. End of life can be a difficult part of our job; but it is not failure when it happens.
Tell us about a professional accomplishment of which you’re especially proud.
Two of my patients recently died and even though they were in a nursing home, I was able to ensure that their personhood was honoured. This was important for patient and family. One of the reasons I love practising medicine with Providence is because that’s one of its stated values: “we put people first.” As a family doctor, that’s what I always strive to do.