Joint award to James & Leslie Rourke for North America 5-Star Doctor

Drs Leslie and James Rourke are announced as co-WONCA 5-Star Doctors for the region of North America. As family physicians, Drs James and Leslie Rourke have made significant contributions to the discipline for over 35 years. A joint nomination for the WONCA North America 5-Star Doctor may be unconventional, however, in addition to being partners in marriage, James and Leslie Rourke have been practice partners throughout their careers, and have also taught alongside one another, first at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), then at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Both James and Leslie Rourke exemplify the five pillars of the WONCA 5-Star Doctor, through their individual accomplishments and their collaborative work with one another, as outlined below.

A care provider:

Drs James and Leslie Rourke practiced in Goderich, Ontario, Canada for 25 years. As rural family physicians, their practice was comprehensive, including obstetrics and emergency care. While in Goderich, their practice was also a main UWO Rural Family Medicine teaching sites.
After a move to St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2004, to take on the role of Dean of Medicine at MUN, Dr James Rourke continued to practice in rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, travelling extensively throughout the province and in New Brunswick to visit teaching sites and provide clinical care. He also delivered humanitarian care and aid in Haiti in his role as a board member with Team Broken Earth.

After leaving her Goderich practice for the east coast, Dr Leslie Rourke continues to see patients and practice family medicine in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She remains a comprehensive care provider, serving a patient-community of all ages, from infants to the elderly, and has adapted to the medically unique patient population under her care, due to genetically-related syndromes that are less common in other parts of Canada.

A decision maker:

Developed in 1979 by Drs Leslie and James Rourke, the Rourke Baby Record revolutionized well-baby visits, creating a record system that included nutrition, development, and family issues, among other factors. At a time when well-baby visits consisted of little more than a vaccination, the Rourkes recognized a gap and acted, creating the Rourke Baby Record. The Record is a tool that simplifies evidence-based well baby/child care from ages 0-5. The Rourke Baby Record continues to be used extensively by physicians for the past 35 years, and has seen numerous updates and revisions as new evidence has emerged.

It is endorsed by both the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS). In 2006, Dr Leslie Rourke was awarded the Dr Wallace J. Ingram Award for New Faculty at Memorial University, which was used to fund the development of the Rourke Baby Record website (, making the free resource even more accessible for physicians worldwide.


Dr James Rourke has had over 100 medical journal articles and book chapters published, and has delivered well over 100 lectures, workshops and presentations spanning from 1974 to present – including several WONCA conferences. His presentations have covered a variety of topics related to practicing rural family medicine, rural emergency services, medical education, and integrating social accountability in medical school curriculums. He has been a Professor of Family Medicine at MUN since 2004, and was also the Dean of Medicine until 2016. He previously served as the assistant dean of Rural Regional Medicine at the UWO, where he was also a Professor in the department of Family Medicine.

Likewise, Dr Leslie Rourke has published 40 journal articles and eight book chapters. She has lectured widely on evidenced-based preventative pediatric healthcare, relationships and boundary issues for physicians and their families, and issues facing rural physicians, with a focus on women’s issues. She was an adjunct professor for the UWO’s Department of Family Medicine and taught medical students and residents in her practice in Goderich beginning in 1984, and continuing to do so in her practice in St. John’s. She was a full-time faculty member at MUN, and was named Profess Emerita of Family Medicine when she retired in 2016.

Community Leader:

Aside from developing the Rourke Baby Record, a tool that continues to serve many in the family medicine community, Drs Leslie and James Rourke have been community leaders within their practice areas, as well as within the community of rural practitioners. From 1997 to 2004, Dr James Rourke was the Founding Director of the Southwestern Ontario Rural Regional Medicine Education, Research, and Development Unit (SWORRM). The SWORRM Unit operated with the mission to improve rural health and healthcare through rural-oriented medical education at the UWO. It led to the development of regional community training sites for specialty resident rotations, and the Rural Undergraduate Medicine Program. It has become a strong, integrated undergraduate/postgraduate rural and regional medical education network.

While practicing family medicine in Goderich, Dr Leslie Rourke was also an adjunct professor with the Department of Family Medicine at the UWO, and was a member of the UWO’s Community-Based Family Medicine Training Program which facilitated training for family medicine residents in communities outside of London. Additionally, she developed and facilitated a master’s course for the UWO’s Department of Family Medicine entitled “Rural Medicine and Health.” While rural medicine has been an ongoing area of interest for Dr Leslie Rourke, she has also been involved and responsive to issues within her local community, developing a bicycle helmet safety program in her former community of Goderich, and receiving the Canadian Parents for French (Ontario) Mlacak Award for Volunteer of the Year in 2001.

Team Member:

As mentioned, Drs James and Leslie Rourke have worked collaboratively in their practice for over 35 years. Outside of the scope of practice, they have been integral members of the university faculties at the UWO and MUN, working to deliver and improve medical education for future physicians, and both have also co-authored numerous papers, book chapters, and journal articles alongside their peers.

The Rourke Baby Record has been updated jointly several times since its first iteration. In 1998, the tool was revised with Dr Jacqui Wakefield to include recommendations from the 1994 Canadian Task Force on Periodic Health Examination. Since 1999, the Rourkes have continued to update the tool in collaboration with Dr Denis Leduc, past-President of the CPS, who is now a co-author of the Record.

Dr James Rourke is also a member of several important taskforces, working groups, and committees including the WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice, the ASPIRE Panel on Social Accountability through the Association for Medical Education in Europe, and the Canadian Collaborative Taskforce for Advancing Rural Family Medicine – a joint taskforce of the CFPC and the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC). Additionally, he played an instrumental role in the Medical Education Design Team for the Northern Ontario (Rural) Medical School proposal, which led to the approval for the Northern Ontario Medical School.

Both Drs Leslie and James Rourke have received numerous awards of recognition throughout their extensive careers in family medicine. Among them are awards from the UWO, MUN, the CFPC, the SRPC, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, all recognizing excellence and leadership in their contributions to the discipline of family medicine. The Rourkes demonstrate a commitment to the roles and principles that characterize exemplary family physicians, and they, as family doctors and leaders in the discipline embody the five pillars of excellence in health care characteristic of Five Star Doctors.