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Who We Are: Dr. Karl Stobbe

Niagara Site Director
Clinical Professor (PT)

“Always my agenda is the same: teach doctors to help all Canadians, not just the ones in cities.” – Dr. Karl Stobbe, clinical professor, McMaster University

Country doctor works to attract more MDs to rural communities


Dr. Karl Stobbe has devoted his career to training country doctors.

As a family doctor in Beamsville in the 1990s, he needed help for his practice, but doctors didn’t apply for his openings and family medicine residents didn’t stay. “They all said the same thing: ‘It’s great here but I’m not trained to do all this.’”

When Karl took the problem to the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University, the school offered to establish a rural training program for family doctors – and asked him to lead it.

The program would offer extra training in delivering babies, assisting at surgery, emergency medicine, and hospital care, among other skills that become important when medical specialists are few or absent.

After five years, McMaster expanded the initiative to include all medical specialties, called Mac Care, and asked Karl to lead the effort. When they subsequently established the Niagara campus of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, based in St. Catharines, he was named its first assistant dean. He now serves as site director for the Niagara teaching site of the Department of Family Medicine in a three-year term ending in 2021.

He’s still in Beamsville, where he raised a family with wife Julie and, while he’s not sure what comes next, he says it will probably involve helping people either here or abroad.

‘You can help people’

His desire to help can probably be traced to a beloved grandmother, Maria Stobbe, who led four children out of war-torn Ukraine in 1944 after losing everything, including her husband.

After a harrowing journey on foot, they boarded a ship bound for Halifax, Canada. Karl’s father, Maria’s eldest son Ewald, never forgot what Canada did for them, and all of the grandchildren grew up in loving awe of Maria.

Maria set Karl on the course to medical school, which he completed at Western University in 1982, followed by residency at Queens University.

“She wasn’t one to give advice. But she was one of those people who believed anything can be accomplished with kindness. She was the guiding light of our family. And one day she looked me in the eye and she said ‘Karl, you can help people.’ And I said ‘okay, Oma.’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

A page from Oma’s book

Karl’s family didn’t have a lot of money, but they focused on the good things. That much was clear after medical school, when Karl trained for an extra year of residency to qualify for a remote posting in Goose Bay, Labrador, only to have his application disappear in a clerical error. He never went, but set about using the training elsewhere, without bitterness.

“In my family culture, anger over something like that would be seen as prideful, and maybe even a bit entitled, because they accept that things go wrong in life. You see, they had known true hardship. My grandfather was killed and the family farm was taken from them. And I’m going to be mad because I can’t work in Goose Bay? No. Gratitude is a family value.”

July 4, 2019

McMaster University Department of Family MedicineMichael G. DeGroote School of Medicine