National Physicians’ Day 2020 – Dr. Alastair Teale

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. Alastair Teale is an infectious disease specialist in Nanaimo. Originally, from Salt Spring Island, Dr. Teale completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, and continued his medical education and internal medicine residency at the University of British Columbia before completing his infectious disease fellowship back at the University of Alberta.

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

The short answer is, because it sounded cool. Immunology and infection sounded like an interesting major back to high school me, and I’ve stuck with it ever since, all the way through medical school and residency. It’s a wide ranging specialty - I get to see patients from everywhere, from the ER to the surgical ward to even psychiatry. It’s also a quirky specialty with other fellow quirky faculty members. Sometimes it does feel like one is pontificating pointlessly about how an infection came to be, but once in a while, you can make an interesting connection that solves a medical mystery and greatly impacts a patient’s life. It’s also an ever-changing field as unfortunately evidenced by the recent emergence of the novel Coronavirus.

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

My interactions with both patients and other health care providers means the most to me. I get to help support other physicians with their cases, help improve patient care and educate others about appropriate approaches to infectious problems.

  • What are your professional interests and notable achievements?

My professional interests include all aspects of infectious disease care ranging from tropical medicine, to Hepatitis B, C and HIV care. I am also interested in antibiotic stewardship – how to optimize antimicrobial use, maximizing benefits and minimizing adverse effects from antimicrobial therapy.

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

My wife and I have a giant, goofy golden retriever named Rupert. We enjoy taking him out to the plethora of trails and forests around Nanaimo. We also enjoy travelling but also love staying close to home. You can’t beat the rugged West Coast of the Island – Bamfield, Ucluelet and Tofino are our favorite getaways. If it weren’t for this pandemic we’d be on our way to Paris to celebrate our honeymoon, but that will have to wait.

  • What is the last book or podcast you enjoyed?

I enjoy listening to history podcasts while trail running. I know that’s weird but it totally gets me through the run. Revolutions podcast is a recommendation for a history podcast that is well done and is one that is not a slog listening through it. The only problem with history podcasts is already knowing how it ends. In my current British history podcast, Pax Britannica, one already knows it’s not going to end well for King Charles I in terms of keeping his head firmly attached to his body after the civil war.

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

Trust in knowing that all the members of the health care team are trying their very best right now.

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

I’ve seen more collaboration than ever between areas of medicine. We have a Pan-Canadian Infectious Disease Specialist discussion app to discuss all aspects of COVID-19 care from public health, to experimental therapy. I think there is also been more collaboration locally between inpatient and outpatient physicians. I also think clinicians are generally being nicer to each other. We all have enough stress throughout all of this and we need to give each other a break.

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

It’s an all-encompassing job that goes beyond 9-5. Problems crop up at all hours and being one of only two infectious disease specialists locally, means that half of all infectious problems are now my problem. It feels like I’m always on the go [on call pager interrupted the interview twice]. The golfing physician is also a huge myth. Who has a solid 3-4 hours of actual free time to devote to a round of golf? 

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

I hope we build a more robust primary care system in Canada, where all patients have a family doctor or NP. The frustrating part of my job is dealing with infectious complications of conditions that could have been easily prevented with good primary care. I can think of no better example of the significant morbidity that can come with a diabetic foot infection that could have been prevented by good, old-fashioned diabetes care.