Orangeville family doctors a true credit to their profession

September 25, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Peter Richardson

Stephen Milone’s family came from Abruzzi, in Italy. Stephen grew up in North York. Stephanie’s family came from Goa, India and she grew up in Mississauga. They met at med school at the University of Toronto, and would marry just before moving to Kingston, 18 years ago, for their residency at Queens University. 

They are both family practitioners, while Stephen also specializes in anesthesiology.  Today, they practice medicine at Headwaters Health Care Centre, just outside of Orangeville. The pair were recently honoured by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons with the 2020 Council Community Family Practice Award. 

The Citizen caught up with the Milones this past weekend to talk about their life and career here in Orangeville. 

The first thing that should be noted is that the couple are certainly no strangers to prestigious awards. In 2010, they were named the Ontario Community Family Medicine Teachers of the Year, in 2014 the Ontario Family Physicians of the Year and in 2017 Headwaters Hospital presented them with the Dr. David Scott Award. However, behind all their professional accolades, they are perhaps two of the most forward thinking, medical practitioners in Dufferin County and the parents of three world travelled and well adjusted children, Benjamin age 16, Daniel age 13 and Grace age 10. 

You see, the Milones have always wanted to include their offspring in every aspect of their busy lives, and so the kids have done hospital rounds, with Mom, before school, travelled to and lived in northern India as a medical missionary family, and spent time exploring both their Abruzzi and Goa roots.

But before all this, Stephen and Stephanie actually began their career paths at different universities, before coming together at UofT. Stephanie started with a degree in bio-medical science at the University of Guelph, going on to obtain her Masters at the University of Toronto and Med School at U of T, before her residency at Queens in Kingston. 

Stephen on the other hand was a UofT boy through and through. He had the same student number for ten years and can still remember it. After marrying Stephanie, he too did his residency at Queens, adding on another year to become an anesthesiologist. After working in Kingston for one more year, the pair came to Headwaters in 2006. 

Once here they rana family practice, for ten years, across the parking lot from the hospital, and had privileges in the hospital as well. Their practice entailed everything from, newborns to geriatrics, to palliative care, home visits and in-hospital patients, in addition to emergency and anesthesia duties for the hospital. 

Stephen pointed out that when people think of a medical specialty, they think of being specialized in a single type of medicine, whereas the family practitioner must be generally knowledgeable in most medicines, in order to be able to diagnosis and recommend treatments for their patients. It is after all your family doctor who sees you first and then may or may not recommend you see another specialist. 

After ten years in this field, the Milones stepped back and re-evaluated their lives and their careers. Their children, though all under 10 years of age at the time, were getting older and it was decided that time with family was important and so they took a year off from their private practice, gave the responsibility of running it to another doctor, whom they had been teaching and helping, and took the year off. 

During that sabbatical, they decided that their youngest child was old enough to travel and so they looked for a medical missionary source with which to volunteer. The catch, was that they wanted to take part as a family. Of the fifteen programs to which they applied, fourteen were unable to accept the children, for various legal or insurance reasons. The fifteenth, was willing to give it a chance. 

The first placement was in Africa, which at the time was not the most hospitable of environments for a family adventure and so was not pursued by the Milones. However, there was also a placement in northern India, which the saw as perfect – especially since Stephanie was from an Indian family and understood the culture. 

The next thing they knew, they were on their way to a remote corner of northern India, just on the Indian side of the Himalayan mountains. Though used to travelling, their children had never been to such a poor part of the world, but they adapted immediately and became a part of the little community where the hospital was located. Stephen and Stephanie were there to teach the locals as opposed to simply dispensing medicines and treatments, and the entire family had a magnificent experience. So much so, that they returned the following year and are still involved with the project. Since they returned, two of their Colleagues from Headwaters hospital have also participated in the endeavour.

Meanwhile, both doctors are active in their community. Stephanie has just been elected to the Board of the Headwaters Health Care Foundation, the fundraising arm of the local hospital, and both she and Stephen are on the Board of the Orangeville Otters Swim Team. All three of their children are avid swimmers and team members. They are active in mentoring high school students, support Family Transition Place and Choices Youth Shelter, while they also help with the Orangeville Food Bank. The Milones have also taken Syrian refugees on as patients, pro-bono and also helped Family Transition Place residents with a wide variety of medical issues. 

The Milone’s are part of the UofT Residency program, as site directors in Orangeville. The first year of the two-year Family Medicine residency is spent at the Toronto Eastern Hospital and the second year here at Headwaters. The program receives two residents each year, who both live and work in Orangeville. The Milones teach them and connect them with the other family doctors and emergency services and all the other specialties at Headwaters hospital. 

Stephanie and Stephen are Associate Professors at Queens University too and are occasionally  asked to take on a resident of other special training. 

When asked a hypothetical question, if you did not have your children, would you consider becoming a part of Doctors Without Borders, both Stephen and Stephanie said yes, most definitely. For them the only limiting factor would be their children. However, enrolling in such a program would be ‘different type of commitment’, they say. The duration is longer, a minimum of six months and the danger factor can be greater. One would have to be at a point in their career that they could give that time commitment, but with their current specialties and work environment the Milones would not be in such a position. 

When thinking about influences on their medical choices, the local physicians were unanimous in choosing two doctors, based in Walkerton Ontario, Sue and Paul McArthur. They were a couple and at that time were doing exactly what Stephen and Stephanie are doing today. They had three children and they were practicing family medicine in a small town environment. They have remained friends to this day. 

Back then, the Milones had never met a husband and wife team. They had not realized that they could do anesthesia, or work in the emergency department and also practice family medicine. 

The Milones credit their friendship with the McArthurs as being the basis for their eventual move to Orangeville. While still living in Kingston, the couple had to drive down Highway 9 and pass through Orangeville to get to Walkerton. During one of their drives, they noticed a new facility being constructed on a hill just outside town – that being Headwaters hospital. A seed was planted. 

Being a mixed race couple, the Milones were initially concerned about their reception in a small centre like Orangeville, but neither of them have ever experienced any adverse responses to being mixed race or to Stephanie being from an Indian heritage. However, what they especially have noticed is that neither have their three children. Orangeville has always welcomed the family warmly and openly. Their experiences have been completely positive and rewarding.

When asked about their most favourite accomplishments, their children come first and foremost. Stephanie was adamant about how pleased they are with the people their offspring are becoming and certain they are, that their choice, to focus on family was the right one to make. Stephen hopes that at some point he will be able to look back at their legacy and see that they had accomplished something positive and good for the world. It is certain, that their peers, believe they already have, considering the bevy of awards and accolades they have received. 

In their efforts to teach their children about their heritage, the family has spent much time in each of their culturally significant countries, Italy and India and an interesting result has materialized. Both Stephen and Stephanie feel a sense of belonging to their respective cultural homes, something often felt by second generations when they return to the land of their parent’s birth. However, Stephanie explains that all three children feel the same draw, but to both countries. They are as at home in Abruzzi as they are in Goa and as they are in Orangeville. It is a fact that pleases Stephen and Stephanie greatly.

When it comes to ambitions for the future, Stephen started thinking outside the box about five years ago, and began to plan for his career 15 years down the line. He realized that his current work schedule would begin to wear on him eventually and he would want to at least step back somewhat. The answer was to merge his interests in medicine with those in business. To date the pair have invested in various ways in five start-up companies. Their involvement has ranged from capital investment to sitting on the boards of two firms.The active involvements have been principally Stephen’s, but they are purely part-time and do not interfere with either his medical or family responsibilities.  

When it comes to retirement, travel is on both their agendas, so being able to perhaps be involved in international companies would be a bonus and a travel opportunity. Medically, neither can see them completely leaving the field.  However, Stephen can see himself slowly phasing out of daily practice and having the flexibility to travel more often and with less necessity for careful planning. Stephanie plans to spend more time on community involvement in health care, once the children have left home. She also wants to do more mission work internationally.

From Italy to Goa and back, starring Stephen, Stephanie, co-starring Benjamin, Daniel and Grace, it could almost be a movie.

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