Why I Write: My Anti-Biography

11/19/2014 12:44 EST | Updated 01/19/2015 05:59 EST

At the beginning of a recent meeting, 10 of us who sat around a table were asked a question: "Can you share a bit about yourself?" We each spoke about our work, citing titles and academic experience, as though we were eager to validate our attendance. While each person was speaking, my mind paid more attention to the list of things they described. By the time we finished I didn't remember a single name and I realized we never answered the question. We were so focused on the things we "did" that we lost sight of our reasons for "being" there and why we could contribute.

This sharing is central to finding common ground and too often we distract ourselves with the list of "stuff" we've done. Most "bios" are written like this, and mine is no different. My intention is for you, as a reader, to know a bit about me as a physician-in-training. I want you to see more than just opportunities I have had (we all know that luck plays a big part in this) or just the letters after my name (admittedly my surname is long enough!) but see a chance to be part of a larger conversation about child health and well-being. So, this is my attempt to present my "anti-biography" -- comprised of four reasons why I write, why I hope you will read along, and more importantly why I hope you will engage in a dialogue with me.

1.To Offer a Different Perspective

I am probably a little less typical than a lot of physicians you might meet. Overall it has been a good thing, but sometimes a lonely place to inhabit. What drove me to medicine was my interest in serving marginalized children, an interest fuelled by my volunteer work and my own background and history. My path led me to earn a Masters that focused on global public health and epidemiology, where I also did extra training in vaccine science and later in humanitarian assistance. Recently I became drawn to the field of integrative medicine, completing further training in nutrition, yoga, and mindfulness. All of that said, my perspective is the fruit of all of these experiences, and speaks to one centered on a preventative medicine model where I value evidence-based medicine, while being open-minded and engaged in holistic approaches of healing and how we can best serve children in all sectors of our society. Through writing about these topics, I hope to foster dialogue with the greater community, particularly anyone who is involved in the health and well-being of our children -- which is all of us.

2.Because I am not an "Expert"

I questioned whether I should wait until I am a "full-fledged" pediatrician in two years before sharing my perspective. Then I realized now is probably the best time, because my perspective can be refined and my vision redirected according to the needs we identify together. Further, the term "expert" implies stagnation, that knowledge is static. I'm more interested in the evolution of knowledge and new approaches to appropriately address contemporary health issues. Indeed, I have found I learn much from those who offer fresh perspectives -- for instance medical students, patients (who are children by the way), and non-clinicians who often, intentionally or not, encourage me to revisit dogma.

3.To Discuss the Three Epidemics Affecting Child Health

I believe there are three existing epidemics affecting child health, and through engaging with readers, hope we can discuss innovative ways to address these issues outside of purely the clinical context.

a)Obesity and Malnutrition: Many Canadian children are simply overfed and undernourished. Obesity is a result of several factors: poor nutrition, mental health, the inequitable accessibility to nutritious food, food insecurity, and food subsidy issues. The sequelae include, but are not limited to, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues, all which place an excessive strain on a number of resources -- not just the healthcare system.

b)Poor Mental Health: I hesitate to use the term "mental illness," as "illness" implies a subjective experience, and many with mental troubles may not immediately recognize it. Mental health issues can manifest in many ways -- depression, anxiety, school-difficulties, neglect, not to mention both violent and non-violent crime. We have very limited hospital resources to deal with mental health issues in our children and youth. So, we need new approaches and need to look at how various sectors can collaborate on "low-tech" solutions such as mind-body interventions and community engagement programs.

c)Inequitable Access to the Social Determinants of Health: In particular, the determinants of income and housing, which disproportionately affect First Nations communities, new immigrants and refugees, and street-youth need to be addressed in a way that empowers each community. This can help ensure that any such interventions are appropriate, culturally sensitive, and most importantly sustainable. Many champions can be found in each community -- writing is one way I hope to reach them and provide a platform to voice their thoughts and ideas for creating a better future forward.

4.To Be Heard and to Listen, To Teach and to Learn

Each one of us can be in a healing profession if what we do is done with compassion and intention of service to create better world. It is truly a privilege to be a physician, and I look forward to when I will be out in practice. The best part of serving patients is hearing their story and their perspectives, which ultimately has a role in shaping how I hope to best serve our children and youth, both within the clinical context and through myriad other ways. While a physician's role is largely clinical, what drove me to medicine in the first place was a commitment to advocacy, policy, and research addressing the social determinants and other "upstream" factors affecting child health. As such, while writing allows me to present my ideas, it is more important that I read yours.

The word "doctor" is derived from the Latin word "docere" which is "to teach." I would argue that this speaks to a larger role that transcends simply clinical care, and is particularly crucial as I am a learner. My patients have taught me that in medicine the teaching and learning is bidirectional. Through writing I hope I can learn more about the community I serve now as a resident, and the community I will serve in the future. Writing, and more importantly, engaging with you as a reader, is a key part in this.

Take what resonates with you, leave the rest, and comment in a way you see fit. I promise to take all comments seriously, and I often feel I learn most from those whose experience differs from my own. Towards me and all writers: please be kind in your expression, as anger can sometimes conceal an important message. This dialogue is valuable, with each and everyone of you. I look forward to the journey.