Colleagues and patients at the Sydney Family Practice Centre are mourning the death of a well-known and well-loved doctor in Cape Breton.

Dr. Murdock Smith also provided care to 2,000 patients, in an area where many are without a family doctor.

He was a doctor who called this clinic home and is being remembered as a man who loved his job and put his patients first. 

Smith passed away Saturday at the age of 78 after an unexpected and brief illness.

“He had nearly a 50-year career,” said Dr. Chris Milburn. “He would have been practising for 50 years come June 15th. There are not many people who have a fifty year career in anything, let alone something as demanding emotionally and physically as medicine.”

Milburn has come forward to help with Smith's patients on a part-time basis. Nearly 2,000 have been left without a family physician.

“It certainly leaves a big gap, which is hard to fill,” said Milburn.

Milburn says there are a few new family doctors starting in Cape Breton this summer, and he hopes some of Smith's patients will be taken care of.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says they are recruiting replacements.

“Especially for primary care providers, like family physicians and nurse practitioners and the sudden loss of Dr. Smith means recruitment is even an higher priority for us at this time,” said Greg Boone, a spokesman for the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Milburn says at least two other family physicians will be closing their practices. Dr. Reggie Sebastian will be moving to Cape Breton University and Dr. Mary Ann Campbell is retiring. Although he says steps are being taken to make sure no one is without care.

“The advice to any patient who is without a family doctor, whether it's a sudden loss or due to retirements, (is) they need to register with the Need a Family Practice Registry,” Boone said. “That's one of the key areas for patients without family doctors.”

Meanwhile, Milburn says Smith had no plans of retiring or giving up his practice.

“It says a lot that he worked right up until the time he died,” said Milburn. “That's what he wanted to do. It's not like it was a tragedy and he didn't have time to retire. This is a guy who loved work and loved serving his community.”

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.