National Physicians’ Day 2020 – Dr. Omar Ahmad

To pay tribute to the many dedicated physicians practicing at Island Health and in honour of National Physicians’ Day, we are profiling some of the doctors leading innovations and delivering high quality service to show the human behind the profession. Dr. Omar Ahmad is a Critical Care physician working the ERs and ICUs in Victoria. He is also the Department Head for Emergency and Critical Care.

  • Why did you choose medicine and your speciality/field?

Like many of my Indian-decent kin, I did not have much choice. As many know, it is medicine or familial abandonment. That being said, I cannot imagine doing anything else. It’s been a career path that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

  • What is most meaningful to you about your work in medicine?

I really enjoy the social aspects. The teamwork and comradery is fantastic. Being a member of a team of caring, collaborative and highly skilled individuals is such a treat.

  • What are your professional interests and notable achievements?

I am really proud of the ROSe Rural Outreach Support app created by myself and some intensivist colleagues ( Rural practitioners can reach an Intensivist 24/7 with the touch of a button on their phones, and video conference with us, share cases, imaging, and get step-by-step instruction while doing a procedure. We are excited that we are now expanding nationally.

I have been involved in various educational endeavours, including co-chairing a CCM-EM Island Wide conference with funny man and friend, Dr. Bruce Campana (dude has a parrot…strange!), recurring rural UBC rounds and a COVID-19 UBC webinar series.

As Department Head during COVID, it has been an honour to work with our ED and CCM teams across the Island.

  • Who or what do you turn to for inspiration?

At the end of the day, I feel like an imposter given that I work with incredible colleagues: nurses, physicians, social workers, pharmacists, administrators, physios, housekeeping, clerks, and the list goes on. Trying to keep up with them and carry my weight is what keeps me going. My incredible wife, Leah MacDonald, and I are extremely competitive with each other, be it at board games or at our jobs. I struggle to try and contribute a fraction of what she does. She is an inspiration!

  • Where do you go, or what do you do, to recharge your batteries?

The work we do can be stressful so it is important to have multiple ways to recharge. Family time is key. Taking a break to jump on the trampoline, go skiing, or kick the soccer ball around with the clan. Simple pleasures like sitting on the patio with Leah and the kids is very cathartic. Ripping up some fresh powder ski lines is blissful, even as my kids whip by me!

  • What is the last book or podcast you’ve enjoyed?

I am reading Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns with my 8-year-old son and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Recently finished a couple of soccer books that I received for my birthday:  Zonal Marking and The Numbers Game. Countless hours are spent reading and listening to podcasts about soccer coaching.

  • What have you most relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Fear! I was driven by fear of letting people down, fear of not doing my job properly and fear of letting the system down. There was so much uncertainty and trying to share as much information as possible and doing my best to ensure no one felt alone or suffered the same fear.

  • What is a change you’ve seen to the health system over the last few months that you are eager to see sustained?

Increased efficiency in the system. We have been more efficient in all the work we do. Every meeting is valuable and moves things forward. The meetings are short and heavy hitting. Action items come out of them and the efficiency at which they are completed is staggering. Having virtual meetings is a big part of this and we are being driven by the same goals.

I want to see virtual health continue. It is better for our patients. We can meet online and not have people wait in waiting rooms for hours.

The collaboration we have seen has been amazing and I hope it continues. There is great collaboration between all health care professionals locally, provincially and nationally. We were all unified by one common goal.  I have never such rich collaboration like this before.

  • What do you wish more people knew about practicing medicine?

We are all flattered by the 7pm healthcare worker cheers and claps. Early on when we were preparing for an Italy type situation, we really appreciated the support. We were moved and felt supported. We want the community to know how grateful we are to everyone. However, prevention is the best medicine and the community did the bulk of the work here by abiding strictly to the rule of social distancing. Thank you! I really hope the clapping continues, but more to show our respect for all of us in society working together and sharing in our humanness and a reminder of our vulnerability.

  • What is your hope for the future of health care in Canada?

I would love to see the great initiatives that were started because of this pandemic become our new normal. Continued support and greater efficiency in primary care. Bringing physicians to patients through virtual care. Increased rural support mechanisms. Maintenance of rural transport teams. Continued focus on a uniform end goal: best care for our patients and health care worker safety.