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Antigonish physicians are increasing access for breast reconstruction and skin cancer treatment with a patient-centered approach

Image of two men's portraits side-by-side, both have short brown hair and they're wearing a dress shirt and tie.

Dr. Corne Nel and Dr. Ash Singh are leading significant improvements in reconstructive surgery and skin cancer treatment at Saint Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish. Their focus on patient-centered care is transforming medical practices in the region. Through their dedication to innovation and patient well-being, they are shaping a brighter future for healthcare in Antigonish and beyond.

Both physicians began practicing in Antigonish last year following the retirement of Dr. Michael Brennan.

Dr. Nel is a South African trained plastic surgeon, specializing in breast surgery (reconstruction, reduction and cosmetic) as well as having a special interest in all forms of skin cancer management. He is a senior plastic surgeon and was Professor and Head of Plastic Surgery at a University teaching hospital in South Africa prior to coming to Antigonish. He found his passion in teaching residents in Plastic surgery, with a special focus on patient interaction and patient centered care. 

Dr. Nel decided to relocate to Canada from South Africa with his family. Drawn by the welcoming community and the opportunity to address unmet healthcare needs in the province, Dr. Nel landed in Antigonish after considering other opportunities in Canada. He relocated with his wife, who is a dermatologist now also working at Saint Martha’s, as well as his three young children.

Dr. Singh is also from South Africa where he honed his skills in both the state and private healthcare sectors after pursuing advanced training at the University of Cape Town. Relocating from Calgary, Dr. Singh brings expertise from a microsurgery fellowship, with a focus on breast, head and neck, and lower limb reconstruction. His prior experience includes a hand fellowship in Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Singh and his wife have moved to Nova Scotia, where she is pursuing a radiology fellowship at IWK and Dalhousie University. 

"It's been great," Dr. Singh reflected. "A beautiful part of the country, close to the water, and the people are extremely friendly."

Together, Drs. Singh and Nel are working to streamline the diagnostic and treatment processes for breast reconstruction patients. Their patients include breast reconstruction following mastectomies, breast reductions, gender-affirming surgeries, as well as cosmetic enhancements.

Their goal is to ensure timely access to reconstructive services for all patients, offering both immediate and delayed reconstruction options based on individual needs. The impact of the surgeries extends far beyond physical appearance, profoundly affecting patients' emotional well-being and quality of life.

"I've done more than 500 breast reductions in my career now and the impact on the patient’s well-being is profound. They are one of the most satisfied group of patients - their only regret is that they wish they would have done the surgery sooner,” said Dr. Nel. “We provide all the information necessary to help them understand all the options available, considering what their body can support and tailoring the surgery to accommodate their lifestyle and body goals. We then combine this with the patient's wishes to achieve the best results possible, while keeping complications at a minimum.”

When dealing with breast cancer, mastectomies can be emotionally challenging for many women, despite being a life-saving procedure. Drs. Nel and Singh perceive their practices as not only addressing patients' medical needs but also restoring their emotional well-being.

"Breast cancer is an extremely traumatic event for patients and their families," said Dr. Singh. "We're trying to restore some dignity and a sense of normalcy for patients.”

Dr. Singh and Dr. Nel are also spearheading efforts to streamline skin cancer treatment at Saint Martha's Regional Hospital. Recognizing the urgency of early intervention, they aim to implement a one-stop approach to skin cancer procedures, where if feasible the procedure is performed on the same day as the consultation with the patient. 

“The ideal timeframe for treating skin cancer is within six weeks of confirmation of diagnosis. However, we are currently falling behind on this goal in the province. We are working to reduce wait times from months to weeks. Decreasing wait times will significantly improve patient outcomes and reduce the need for more extensive procedures, explained Dr. Singh. 

Both Dr. Singh and Dr. Nel view their work as more than just a job; they see it as a mission to enhance patient-centered care within the Eastern Zone of Nova Scotia Health and the services provided at Saint Martha’s Regional Hospital.

Photo of (L-R) Dr. Corne Nel and Dr. Ash Singh.

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