Resident finds a new voice for his advocacy

Crystal Mackay // Special to Western NewsIn response to a viral video showing a woman in a clinic in the GTA demanding to be seen by a white doctor, Dr. Adam Kassam, Chief Resident in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, penned the first of what would be several op-eds advocating diversity with health care.

Dr. Adam Kassam didn’t set out to be an advocate. But a commitment to diversity, and a firm belief in speaking up, drove the Chief Resident in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry to his computer to write his first published op-ed – and then, several more.

It was a response to a viral video showing a woman in a clinic in the GTA demanding to be seen by a white doctor. Kassam’s editorial was published on the front page of MetroNews and in the Toronto Star under the headline, I’m the kind of Paki doctor mom doesn’t want to see. He wrote about his own experience as a visible minority physician-in-training and the racism he experienced as a boy.

“There is no doubt we, in Canada, have race-related issues and are far from being the racially harmonious country we like to tell ourselves we are,” he wrote. It’s an issue he has become inspired to speak out about – from the importance of collecting diversity data in the country, to addressing how to improve diversity in medicine as a whole.

Since that first op-ed, he has penned 12 more in less than six months, all featured in the pages of prominent Canadian publications, like the Ottawa Citizen, CBC and the Huffington Post.

“The pen is mightier than the sword, and I truly believe that,” he said. “Certainly, even more so in the 21st Century with social media, we can really make an impact worldwide through the dissemination of information because of how quickly information, can move across countries and reach a wide audience.”

All of Kassam’s editorials focus on public health issues and diversity, two passions he holds dear to his heart. As a physical medicine and rehabilitation resident, advocacy comes naturally. “In our profession, we are advocating daily on behalf of our patients with disabilities,” he said.

With a master of public health degree from Columbia and a medical degree from Dartmouth, he has a unique perspective on the Canadian health-care system.

In the United States, where he went to university, they have collected data on diversity in medicine since the 1990s, providing a backdrop to see where the problems are and where the improvement needs to happen. Here in Canada, he argues, that kind of data isn’t collected at all.

“Because we don’t have those numbers, we don’t even know if we have a problem.”

His keen interest in diversity in medicine was sparked while at medical school, where he served as the Diversity Chair for a district of the American Association of Medical Colleges. “The goal was to encourage minority students, specifically in high school, to consider a career in medicine,” he said.

It was then he realized a system based solely on merit was part of the problem. “If someone merits a position or admission to a school, then that is what should be the common denominator,” he said. “But that only works in an ideal world, where everyone comes from the same background and the same level of opportunity. Let’s realize the playing field is not always level.”

Kassam will continue to write. And his focus will be on how we can improve for the future, looking to the relative success of other medical systems around the world. “We are lucky to live in a country where we do have a voice, and we can talk about what isn’t perfect so that we can improve,” he said.