By Dr. Kevin Pottie
When I began my residency at Bruyère FHT, many years ago, I mentioned that I spoke Spanish. A week later, a large wave of Guatemalan and Salvadorian refugees arrived in Ottawa. For the next 2 years, I learned Family Medicine in a rich, chaotic but inspirational group of newly arriving 200 children, women and men from Latin America.
My Spanish was not super advanced back then and even if it was, I still had patients who needed help with vaccines, over the counter meds at pharmacies, handling counselling, and sometimes as an interpreter, as real interpreters were nonexistent. I finished my day after most residents, but I received global health lessons that would help in my future refugee work with MSF and in ER late night shifts in North York General, Toronto.
I arrived to academic Family Medicine with northern, MSF, and urban ER experience and a Masters of Family Medicine. New people ask tough questions. I asked, why do we not have an evidence-based guideline to support the care of refugees? My global health mentor asked me to write a 1-page concept note and from there my research career took off.
I wanted impact more than anything, but hated the structure and distance of research. Over 5 years, with 87 co-authors, battles with specialists and family doctors and much editing with CMAJ, we published the world’s first evidence based guidelines for immigrants and refugees to rave clinical and media reviews. Who doesn’t like having CBC call their research work revolutionary? I still wanted to go back to more teaching and clinic, but after 5 intense years, I realized I had changed; I had created my own global health business. And this business has led to positions with GRADE, WHO and EU in Geneva and the European CDC in Stockholm and work as a leader in evidence-based migrant health around the world.
Besides developing an interest in refugees, and maybe considering some LMIC travel, check out our cool website at clinical and teaching www.ccirhken.ca. I recommend residents and staff of all persuasions to take a peek at the e-learning modules, read our CMAJ guidelines, use the clinician checklist and follow our student innovations. We’re open to resident projects and our newest gig is AI and Migrant Health with government and International Organization of Migration partners.
Find Dr. Pottie’s biography and read his most recent publication: “Healthcare is not universal if undocumented migrants are excluded”
Dr. Pottie will also be presenting at the CHEO Global Health and Primary Care Day on November 20 on Climate Change Refugees and Global Mental Health.