Dr. Joe Golumbia (MD'48) celebrated his 70th medical school class reunion in June. (Photo: Imagery Photography)
Dr. Joe Golumbia (MD'48) celebrated his 70th medical school class reunion in June. (Photo: Imagery Photography)

The Country Doctor

“I always wanted to be a country doctor,” said Dr. Joe Golumbia (MD’48), reflecting on his career as a family physician, which took him to communities across the prairies.

In June, Golumbia celebrated his 70th medical school reunion during the College of Medicine’s Highlights in Medicine alumni conference.

Golumbia completed two years of premedical education at the University of Saskatchewan before entering the School of Medical Sciences (as it was known at the time), where he was “one of only 24 students.” It was a two-year program and students needed to go elsewhere to finish their medical training. Golumbia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and moved east to Ontario where he completed his medical degree at the University of Toronto.

It wasn’t long after that Golumbia returned to Saskatchewan. He did a one-year residency at Regina General Hospital, followed by a locum and brief stint practicing in Nipawin. In the winter of 1952-53, Golumbia became aware of an opportunity in a nearby town.

“Friends told me that a solo practice would be available in Melfort due to the “I always wanted to be a country doctor,” said Dr. Joe Golumbia (MD’48), reflecting on his lengthy career as a family physician, which took him to communities across the prairies. retirement of one of four physicians,” said Golumbia. “I made arrangements to buy the practice and move to Melfort.” The rural practice kept him busy and included medicine, surgery, obstetrics and pediatrics. As a general practitioner, he worked within the town and in the surrounding community, including making calls in inclement weather.

Golumbia recalled a snowstorm in 1952 where he needed to check on a mother and her newborn baby. It was a home birth because the family was unable to make it to the hospital.
Due to the snow, the roads hadn’t been cleared, but Golumbia was determined to get to the family’s farm. He knew a man who used an airplane to spray his crops and who was able to assist. The farmer met Golumbia at the airport with a ski-equipped plane.

“I knew exactly where the home was located because of previous calls I had made to that area,” explained Golumbia. “We flew out and landed in a stubble field across the road from the house.” The owner met them with a team of horses and they rode to the front door. Golumbia was able to check on mother and baby who, thankfully, were doing fine. This was one of a half dozen calls made during blizzards, when roads were difficult to navigate by vehicle until snowplowed.

In the summer of 1970, Golumbia was invited to join the family practice teaching unit at the University of Alberta in Edmonton’s University Hospital, where he set up a teaching program at three of the area’s hospitals. At the time, family medicine had just become a specialty and it was challenging to “get the seeds planted” for a new program, said Golumbia. That, along with a desire to be closer to family, prompted his move to Saskatoon.

“While in Saskatoon, I worked almost exclusively at City Hospital,” said Golumbia. He was the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine for four years and spent a term as chief of family practice. He worked with Drs. Sam Landa and Noel Doig. However, with Dr. Landa nearing retirement it meant a heavier call schedule for the other two doctors.

“Dr. Doig and I were on-call every second night and weekend. It was a big change for me since I was on call in Melfort once per week and every second or third weekend.” Golumbia thought they were on-call too frequently and left to start his own practice. Dr. Doig asked to join him and the new practice was named Drs. Doig, Golumbia and Associates. The practice grew over the years and, after Golumbia’s retirement, was renamed to City Centre Family Physicians.

Away from the medical profession, Golumbia is an avid curler. He took up the sport in his early teenage years and played until only a few years ago when he was forced to give up the game due to health. Golumbia has competed in many physician leagues and tournaments, and was skip of a team that won the Canadian Medical Curling Championships twice (1973 and 1989), and was voted "all-star vice-skip” at the Canadian Senior Men's Canadian Curling Championship with his Saskatoon rink in 1985. Even at the curling rink, players would turn to their physician teammate for medical advice.

“I have had fellow curlers ask me to check their hernia, for example, in the locker room,” said Golumbia, chuckling. He recalls one man who came to see him at the office and wanted his gall bladder removed. The man was so impressed by Golumbia’s on-ice skills that he had faith the doctor would be equally competent in the operating room.

“I’ve been watching you curl, and you seem to know what you’re doing out there,” said Golumbia, recalling the patient’s words. “I want you do to the surgery.” Since the man was a patient of another doctor in the practice, Golumbia suggested perhaps he could assist the patient’s doctor in performing the surgery, to which the patient agreed.

Throughout his career, Golumbia has also embraced the role of a physician leader. He has served the medical profession in a number of capacities, including president of the Melfort Union Hospital medical staff and serving on the hospital’s Board of Directors, president of the Carrot River District Medical Society, medical officer of health (MOH) for the town of Melfort, and MOH for the R.M. of Flett Springs. He also took on roles as president for the Saskatchewan chapter of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and chairman of the Worker’s Compensation Board Medical Review Panel for the northern half of the province, where he remained for 25 years.

Having retired in 1995, after more than four decades as a physician, Golumbia is thankful for time at the university and noted that his primary reason for attending the 2018 reunion was to see his colleagues and friends in Saskatoon.

“My medical class and I first got together in Saskatoon for our 40th [class reunion], then our 50th. At that time we decided that, considering our ages, 10 years was too long and we should reunite every five years. Therefore, those of us still living did have reunions at 55, 60 and 65 years. Unfortunately, of the five of us still living in 2018, four were unable to attend.”

“I have always considered the U of S as my Alma Mater even though I obtained my MD degree from the U of T,” said Golumbia. “In our two years of medicine at the U of Saskatchewan we spent many long and difficult hours in classes and home study. All of us needed to be prepared to complete our final two years at other universities and we had to be prepared for whichever one of these institutions accepted us. I must say that our education at the university was second to none.”

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