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Tribute to Dr. John N. Premi — Founder of PBSG Program

Dr. John N. Premi, the family physician who started the Practice-Based Small Group Learning Program, died on February 19, 2021. For those of you who did not have the privilege of knowing John personally, we want to share this brief tribute.

In the late 1980s, John had an exciting vision of an innovative approach to the continuing education of family doctors through the formation of peer learning groups in their own communities. Despite early setbacks and innumerable challenges (including many skeptics and the lack of funding), John’s enthusiasm and energy for this novel approach did not wane.

He persuaded a handful of family doctors to volunteer their time and creativity to develop the evidence-based materials to support discussions of real patient cases and then to train facilitators for the new groups. Known as “The Tuesday Afternoon Group”, these family docs worked with John—reading and writing tirelessly— as PBSG evolved in the early years. John used his favourite Latin expression, Faciendo discimus (we learn by doing) to guide our reflections and struggles to find ways to improve the program. In the windowless basement conference room of a local motel, new ideas and vigorous debates abounded – along with doses of good humor and laughter often triggered by John!

The first pilot of the Practice-Based Small Group Learning Program began in 1992, with the endorsement of the Ontario College of Family Physicians. The initial years were very successful, and the College of Family Physicians encouraged us to “go national”. Despite taxing time and resources to the limit, the PBSG Learning Program “took the plunge” and was the first accredited Mainpro-C® program of the College. John’s influence was so profound that many of the early members referred to PBSGs as “the Premi Groups”.

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The rapid expansion of the Program took its toll on the family physician volunteers, some of whom were exhausted by the pace and demands. Undaunted, John worked tirelessly to find human and financial resources to keep the Program from becoming dependent on either industry or the University. This led to the formation of the non-profit Foundation for Medical Practice Education in 1997. John Premi continued at the helm until his retirement in 2002, at which point PBSG was well established. The program has continued to flourish, and by the fall of 2020 served over 6000 members across Canada.

We express our gratitude for John’s leadership and the legacy that he has left all of us involved with the PBSG Learning Program!