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Celebrating Doctor's Day

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Picture of three doctors smiling.

Dr. Oliva Ortiz-Alvarez, pediatric physician at Saint Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez has wanted to be a doctor for as long as she could remember. Originally from Mexico, Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez studied medicine at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

She moved to Canada in 1994 to pursue a fellowship where she met her husband, who was pursuing his PhD. Her husband, Dr. Ricardo Scrosati, was appointed a Canada Research Chair at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish which is what initially brought them to Nova Scotia.

Despite being from a large city, Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez quickly fell in love with the peaceful pace of life in Antigonish. She enjoys being surrounded by the beauty of the coast and being part of a tight-knit community. Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez has special advice for medical students and residents, “don’t count out small communities when you are thinking of establishing your practice.”

"In a small community, it's not about having everything available; it's about wisely utilizing our resources and having life's slower pace. Here, we're not just colleagues, we're like a big family, supporting and connecting with each other in ways that larger centers can't,” explained Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez.

Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez appreciates the work-life balance that is offered in the community, which has allowed her to enjoy time with her family and pursue a busy career which she calls “the best of both worlds.”

When asked what her favorite part about being a doctor is, her answer is simple – patient interaction.

"I love children, and the better prepared they are physically and mentally is an investment for the future.”

Dr. Ortiz-Alvarez continues to make a difference in the lives of children and families in Antigonish, embodying the spirit of community and care that defines her beloved coastal town.

Dr. Conrad Oja, Internal Medicine Physician at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Dr. Oja was born in Toronto, Ontario and spent his formative years in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia until his family relocated to Vancouver in 1985.

Dr. Oja pursued his Bachelor's in Biochemistry from the University of British Columbia, followed by a PhD in Cancer Chemotherapy Drug Delivery Systems. He then earned his Medical Doctorate and underwent training in Internal Medicine, followed by subspecialty training in Medical Oncology at the British Columbia Cancer Agency.

For more than 17 years, Dr. Oja dedicated himself to serving patients at the BC Cancer Agency, initially in Vancouver before playing a pivotal role in establishing the Abbotsford Cancer Centre and Clinical Trials Unit. Specializing in gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, and Sarcoma Cancers, he also completed research on the benefits of medicinal cannabis in cancer symptom management, contributing to international discourse on the subject.

Driven by a desire to return to his roots and be closer to family and friends, Dr. Oja seized an opportunity at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, fulfilling a long-held dream of practicing in Nova Scotia. Since March, Dr. Oja is now established at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

“My wife and I grew up together in Dartmouth and have always intended to return to Nova Scotia either to work or eventually retire, as we have friends and family here and frequently visit for vacation. My kids were finally no longer attending university so my wife, our disabled child, and I realized we no longer had to be close to a major city for school and looked into the job at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre. Things progressed very quickly after that.”

Dr. Oja particularly loves the people in Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton in particular, and finds them more welcoming and friendly than anywhere else. Plus, he has always loved the ocean. He acknowledges he'll still is getting used to the snow and many potholes!

Like many physicians, Dr. Oja’s favorite part of the job is directly helping patients improve their quality of life.

“The direct work helping patients is what I love the most. Cancer is a scary and usually sad journey – the best part of my job is making sure patients and their families enjoy the best life they can every day of their journey,” said Dr. Oja.

To aspiring medical professionals, Dr. Oja emphasized the importance of early life balance to navigate the pervasive stress inherent in the medical field.
“Find life balance early, stress is everywhere, and you need to focus on the best ways for you to manage it,” he said.

Outside of his medical practice, Dr. Oja cherishes family time, embarking on adventures with his child and indulging his inner child with video games. He finds relaxation in reading, cooking, and BBQing, alongside meditation to unwind from the demands of his medical practice.

Dr. Asha Dawson, Family Medicine Physician at Queens Family Health in Liverpool, Nova Scotia

Born in Wales, United Kingdom, Dr. Dawson was raised in a small Scottish town until her relocation to Canada. She graduated from medical school at just 22 years old before completing general practitioner (GP) training, or what is referred to as family medicine in Canada. This journey included three years in hospital roles followed by two years as a GP trainee, subsequently transitioning into full-time GP practice.

Dr. Dawson's professional interests encompass substance misuse, child protection, and adult psychiatry. She has experience teaching medical school in the UK and worked in a regulatory role as an appraiser within the UK’s equivalent to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

After more than two decades of practicing medicine in the UK, Dr. Dawson sought a change.

"The health service was becoming so overstretched and under-resourced that it was becoming harder and harder to practice in a compassionate and thorough way. Within my last few years, I felt like I was practicing in a way that was not in alignment with my work ethic," she explained. "Most doctors around me were burnt out, stretched, and undervalued. My husband and I spoke to other UK-bred GPs who had moved to Canada, and they seemed to be happier, having a better work-life balance, and being able to care for patients in a more personal way."

After connecting with Nova Scotia Health's Physician Recruitment Team, Dr. Dawson and her husband visited the province for a site visit and fell in love with the South Shore.

"We chose to come to Liverpool. We decided this adventure would be exciting for us personally and would hopefully allow me to fall back in love with my chosen profession. Everyone from the recruiter to the managers to the other health care professionals helped us so much. The Queens General Hospital Foundation was instrumental in helping us get set up and settled," said Dr. Dawson.

Despite having only been in Nova Scotia for a year, Dr. Dawson and her husband feel more at home than they ever imagined. They were warmly welcomed by the community and Dr. Dawson's new medical colleagues, forming a supportive medical family. "I love the laid-back attitude of my colleagues, which took me a while to adjust to after the UK. I love the simplicity of life. How quiet places are, and how you can have a whole beach to yourself. I love the scenery, the nature, and the wildlife," she said.

Navigating the transition to work in a new country presented challenges due to significant differences in practice, but Dr. Dawson appreciated the time and autonomy afforded to her in her schedule. With the support of her colleagues, she was able to navigate these differences smoothly, aided by the willingness of everyone to lend a helping hand.

"My husband has also been welcomed and loves this new home and life we have created!" she said. "Mostly, I love the people. They feel so genuine and friendly, whilst also respecting your space."

What Dr. Dawson enjoys most about being a doctor is time spent with her patients. "I feel it’s a privilege to be welcomed into patients’ lives and stories and to be part of their health journey. I care about each one of them, and feel happy with my work," she expressed. "Having time here to properly engage with patients, I am enjoying looking at 'health promotion' rather than troubleshooting. I enjoy advocating for my patients and helping them navigate good health care. I find treating mental health and palliative care particularly rewarding."

Her advice for those new to medical practice is to develop good stress relievers and remember that everyone is an individual, so create your own work balance and schedules, and avoid excessive comparison to others.

"Choose the specialty you are passionate about, as it's a long career. Don’t base it on other people's opinions. Staying happy and loving what you do is the best way to prevent job burnout. Try to remind yourself every day what a privilege our role is, as this also helps on the more stressful, challenging days. Be brave to make changes (if it's within your power) to make your job better and less stressful if you're struggling."

Outside of her medical practice, Dr. Dawson loves cooking (mainly Indian food as she is half Indian), reading, creative writing, and hiking.

"It turns out we really enjoy socializing! We didn't realize how much until we moved to Nova Scotia."

Thank you Drs. Ortiz-Alverez, Oja, and Dawson for choosing to practice in Nova Scotia. We wish you and all doctors in our province a Happy Doctors’ Day!

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