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More than ever, we need physicians

We caught up with Dr. Sean Virani to ask about the evolving role of physicians in our health care system and the patients who have stuck with him.
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​Dr. Sean Virani, Vice President, Medical and Academic Affairs, PHSA

​When a day like National Physicians’ Day rolls around, it can open our eyes to what’s right in front of us. We may think of our physician colleagues, who work around the clock to apply their expertise and deliver exemplary care. We might be reminded of a doctor who listened to us and advocated for us when we needed it most. Or perhaps we are a physician – a skilled, dedicated individual who isn’t immune to the weight of the crises we’ve all been carrying.

For Dr. Sean Virani, a cardiologist who recently took on the role of PHSA’s Vice President, Medical and Academic Affairs, now is the time for physicians and their colleagues to make time for recovery and reflection. It’s an opportunity to appreciate how far you’ve come and the difference you’ve made. And it’s time for the rest of us to find ways to express appreciation for the physicians in our lives. 

As Canadians recognize National Physicians’ Day on May 1, can you speak to the role of physicians in our health-care system?

“I’m drawn to the fact that we’ve lived through a pandemic for the last number of years and more than ever, the role of physicians in driving health system redesign, ensuring the wellness of our population, and in maintaining the foundational tenets of public health has never been more clear. Alongside our colleagues, we have advocated for our patients. We have cared and stayed up long hours for our patients. We continue to be drivers of health system redesign. I think the role of physicians has never been more important. And for this National Physicians’ Day, I would ask that all my physician colleagues take a moment to reflect on how they are supporting and advancing the health system through very difficult times. Take a moment of respite and a moment for wellness. I’d encourage all those people within the health system, and those who access the health system, to also take a moment and reflect on the contribution that physicians have made during this time, to reach out and say thank you.” 

“I think it’s those small gestures, that acknowledgement, that consideration, that drives the medical profession. We got into this because we wanted to help others, and it’s important to let physicians know they have achieved that end.”

Why did you want to become a physician? Do those reasons still stand? 

“Ultimately, I chose the medical profession because I’m very much a people person and I like the science of medicine. I wanted to take those two things and put them together. I chose to become a cardiologist, because when I was doing my residency, it was the field that resonated most with me. It seemed like the obvious thing to do. I knew that I wanted to engage in a career that would be something I’d be excited about for the rest of my life. As I’ve progressed through my medical career, I’ve become increasingly excited about how physicians can influence and drive change in the health system. And so, while I entered because of a passion for working with people, and the science of it, what has propelled me forward is my constant desire to make the system we work in, better. To make it more patient-centred and to support providers in their delivery of more patient-centred care. Because I think that’s what doctors really want to do. They want to do good for their patients and they want to feel good about doing good for their patients. When I reflect on those original aspirations of why I got into the medical profession, I think they still hold true, but they’ve evolved over time to focus more on the delivery of health care at the macro level.”

Every health care professional has patients and moments that stay with them through their career. Can you share a few of your defining moments?

“I practice as a cardiologist and specifically in the realm of advanced heart failure and cardiac transplant. There’s so much emotion when you talk about the heart and as a result, so many moving stories. Just thinking about the patient’s stay in critical care, there are a lot of life or death decisions that must happen in the moment. It’s the transplant patients, their individual journeys and experiences that are most rich for me, and the most memorable. When you steward a patient through the process of transplant, and are able to see them thrive and grow and return to a normal life after transplant, it’s very rewarding. Many of my patients were transplanted at a young age and go on to have vibrant lives and get married, and to be invited to those weddings – it brings moments of positive reflection. I have two patients in particular who have harnessed that experience and gone on to develop an actual Foundation to support those living with heart failure. To me, to be able to help them on their journey and to see how their journey has inspired them to help others in this pay-it-forward approach, has really been the most rewarding thing I have done in the practice of medicine. To support those who, in turn, support others.”

“My career has also been guided by physician mentors who took an interest in me and supported me throughout my career. At every stage of my training, my development, there have been physician colleagues and mentors who have put their hand on my back and nudged me to grow and explore what it is that makes me happy. And to do it in a safe and enabling way. If it weren’t for those individuals, I wouldn’t be in this role today, and I really wouldn’t be practicing medicine or trying to redesign our health system.”

“I can think of those moments of advice right now, and how five or 10 or 15 years later, it changed the trajectory of not just my career, but my life.” 
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