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“From Maps to Medicine: The Evolution of Dr. Haider Saeed’s Career in Healthcare”, Interview with Dr. Haider Saeed

Dr. Haider Saeed’s career journey blends academic intrigue with practical insights, guiding his path from urban geography to healthcare. Navigating through urban planning and public health, he transitioned to clinical research and medical school, embracing each experience’s lessons. Having accepted the role of Module Development Director, he envisions blending digital innovation with personal connections to shape FMPE’s future, reflecting his commitment to community care and educational advancement.

Q: How did your journey from academic studies, professional experiences, and personal milestones ultimately shape your career in healthcare?

From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by maps and how they can teach you about the environment that surrounds you. As a child, I remember looking at a map of my hometown to find out where all the playgrounds were. My older brother, who was quite artistic, had painted a world map on his wall, further igniting my passion for geography.

In high school, my favorite class was urban studies, which explored geography in the context of cities. This led to an undergraduate degree in urban geography. Despite this interest, I contemplated a career in medicine, influenced by my mother who was a family doctor. I think both my parents felt I would make a good physician—reflecting on my own children’s inclinations, I can now recognize how certain traits might align with specific careers.

After much consideration, I decided to pursue a career in urban planning. I even submitted an application for a master’s degree but received unexpected guidance from my advisor. He cautioned me about the frustrations inherent in urban planning, where idealistic visions often clash with bureaucratic realities. Instead, he suggested I consider a path in community health, noting my interest in urban health issues.

Following his advice, I enrolled in a master’s program in community health and epidemiology at Queen’s University. Although the typical trajectory would lead to a PhD and research career, I found myself drawn to more hands-on work. After completing my degree, I transitioned to clinical research in family medicine, where my colleagues encouraged me to consider medical school.

With newfound determination, I applied to medical schools, facing challenges due to my unconventional undergraduate background. Despite rejections from Ontario schools, I was accepted at a program in New York State, where I began my medical education in August 2001, just weeks before September 11th.

The events of 9/11 deeply impacted our class, forging strong bonds amidst the chaos. Despite the tumultuous start, my time in New York was formative and I developed a deeper understanding of epidemiology in a clinical context.

Returning to Canada for residency at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, I gained invaluable experience serving a diverse community in the west end of the city. Our clinic catered to a wide spectrum of patients, from those living in affluent neighborhoods, to new immigrants, to those grappling with mental health challenges.

After residency, my journey led me to the Niagara Region of Ontario, where I practiced for several years before ultimately settling in Hamilton. In 2016, I took over my current practice, embracing the opportunity to serve this vibrant community. I also work part-time with an organization that places family doctors into shelters and other organizations that serve individuals who are unhoused.

Through twists and turns, my career has evolved, guided by a passion for improving health and well-being within the context of urban environments.

Q: When did you first start using FMPE’s modules within a small group learning environment?

Joining a PBSG group (as they were known at the time!) was considered an essential step for new practitioners like me. My residency program considered it part and parcel of launching a medical career, on par with certification from the CFPC, provincial licensure, and registration with the CMPA and worker’s compensation board.  

So when I joined a family health team in St. Catharines, Ontario back in 2007, I also joined their PBSG group. My direct practice partner was actually the facilitator for our group.

The group pilot tested modules, and the facilitator occasionally participated in roundtable discussions, which involved collaborating with the writing team to develop module cases and content. The aim was to ensure that the modules addressed relevant gaps in practice and effectively conveyed key learning points to participants.

Roundtables provide a valuable opportunity for real-time feedback and discussion, allowing us to refine the module content and ensure its applicability across different practice settings. This process requires careful consideration of existing literature, previous polling data on practice gaps, and personal reflections on clinical experiences. The involvement of members from across Canada also helps to ensure a more comprehensive perspective, considering variations in practice across different provinces.

Ultimately, the goal of these roundtables is to set the module on the right track from the outset, and hopefully minimize the need for extensive revisions later in the process!

Q: How did this evolve into other spheres?

In 2010, our facilitator was asked to participate in a roundtable but was unavailable. She offered up my name as an alternate and thus my enhanced role with FMPE began.

After participating in several roundtables, I was approached to author a module, which I did successfully for two or three modules. As an author, I demonstrated a good understanding of the process and provided valuable input. Subsequently, I was asked to become an editor, leveraging my background in epidemiology to ensure accuracy in interpreting study findings and crafting evidence-based content.

In addition to my role as an editor, I also served as an evidence-based medicine (EBM) consultant. This involved assisting writing teams in interpreting complex studies and clarifying statistical analyses. While my main role was editing modules, I also provided consultation on an as-needed basis and contributed to refining module content.

A couple of years ago, an opportunity arose to step into the role of associate director of module development. In this capacity, I continued editing modules but also took on additional responsibilities, including attending monthly meetings and overseeing certain aspects of the organization’s operations. This transition marked a significant milestone in my involvement with FMPE.

With the recent retirement of our director, I’ve assumed more leadership responsibilities within the organization. While the transition has brought new challenges, I’m excited to continue contributing to FMPE’s mission and guiding its future direction.

Q: How does FMPE handle rapidly evolving topics when deciding on module development?

Our module development process typically spans about a year from inception to publication, with writing teams assigned a year in advance and work commencing approximately nine months before publication. Given this process, we’re not really equipped to address topics undergoing rapid changes.

I often recall a profound statement made by Dr. Jacqui Wakefield during one of our meetings. She articulated that we don’t have to be the only CME source that our members access. While our organization serves as a valuable resource, individuals can access information from various sources, including online tools and journals. Thus, if a topic doesn’t align with our process or product, we’re unlikely to develop a module on it.

Q: How does FMPE foster peer support in its small group program?

I’ve learned over time that the value of our small group program extends beyond imparting information. Participants appreciate the opportunity to engage in open discussions with peers, allowing for vulnerability and sharing of clinical challenges. In the small group setting, the emphasis is not solely on content delivery but also on the learning process and fostering a supportive environment for knowledge exchange. I find significant value in the interactions and camaraderie with fellow members in my own group. Despite the shift to virtual meetings, these sessions remain beneficial for addressing practice challenges and staying connected with peers.

Q: How do you envision FMPE’s future amidst the ever-changing dynamics of digital learning and team collaboration?

While electronic tools dominate, there’s a growing appreciation for the value of personal connections and tangible experiences. At the management level, we’re exploring ways to blend modern technology with the timeless appeal of personal connection. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to offer a unique experience—a mix of electronic resources paired with lively group discussions. It’s about reimagining learning, returning to human connection amidst the digital noise of today’s world.