Patient Engagement

Getting to Know 2018 AMS Phoenix Fellow Dr. Gary Bloch

AMS would like to introduce our new 2018 Phoenix Fellow Dr. Gary Bloch. Dr. Bloch is a Family Physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Inner City Health Associates and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto Department of Family and Community Medicine.



Why did you decide to become a healthcare professional?

I had a number of reasons for entering health care:  I was always interested in finding ways to address the social forces that impact health.  I initially explored this through an undergraduate degree in the history of colonialism, and considered an academic career.  I decided, however, that I would be most effective by gaining skills I could apply with individuals, along with continued work on the social causes of health.  I had strong role models in my mother and both of her parents who were successful and satisfied physicians, and my father who was a psychologist.  I was very aware, therefore of the power of health care providers, and of the lived professional realities of a career in medicine.  I haven’t been disappointed:  I love my day to day work, with individuals, and in advocacy, research, education, and program development.  I can’t imagine another professional space in which I could be so intimately connected to the realities of my patients’ lives, while being able to think about and act on the big picture trends in society, education, and health care provision.

What was the catalyst for your interest in compassion in healthcare?

While I came into medicine with a strong desire to impact on the social challenges to health, I wasn’t particularly clear on how this would play out professionally.    Early in my career, I was swept up in a number of large political campaigns.  These were exciting, and may have had some impact, but they were lacking in grounding and soul.  It dawned on me that the most powerful drivers for this work, and the ways to keep it in close touch with the realities of people’s lives, lay in the stories my patients told me day in and day out.  As I developed an ability to truly listen to those stories, and to provide the space to allow them to be told in their full complexity, my understanding of the deep impact of social challenges to health deepened immeasurably.  So I would say a recognition of the essential need for a deeply compassionate, reality- and story-centered approach to health care emerged from my desire to push my skills as both a front line clinician and as an advocate and educator beyond the superficial and towards a far more grounded and connected understanding of health and health care.

How were you introduced to the Phoenix Program?

I found the Phoenix program as I was searching for ways to further support my non clinical work.  For years I patched together projects in research, education, advocacy, social policy, and program development.  After almost fifteen years in practice, I started to look for a way to both reflect on what I have done, and to bring these projects together in a more unified way.  The Phoenix Fellowship offers a truly unique opportunity to do this.  I was further excited to explore the work of previous Phoenix Fellows, such as Cynthia Whitehead and Ayelet Kuper, who have been inspirations for my work, and who have used their Fellowships to carry this work forward in very important ways.

What value does being an AMS Fellow bring to you professionally?

This Fellowship gives me the opportunity to reflect on the work I have been involved in for the past fifteen years, to disseminate it academically, and to develop a plan to carry it forward and grow to reach even greater heights through the next phase of my career.  This is a truly unique opportunity, and I look forward to having the mental and professional space to allow for this growth over the next one to two years.

What one little thing could we do to make our healthcare system more compassionate?

The first step, in my mind, is to train health professionals to take time to truly listen to their patients’ stories.  While this obviously requires time up front, it immediately deepens the care relationship, and deepens the health provider’s understanding of their patient’s physical, mental, and social health condition.

Have you ever been given advice by a patient that changed the way you practice medicine? If so, what was it?

The most powerful advice I was given was when a patient told me that if I wanted to improve their health I needed to find a way to help them improve their income.  This pushed me to look for ways I, as a front line health provider, could have a direct impact on the poverty, and on the other social pressures, my patients faced day to day.  I have now heard this sentiment from many patients, which gives me comfort that the path I am on is one that will continue to have a real impact on my patients’ (and our society’s) health.

About the author

Dr. Gary Bloch

The Role of Action on Social Determinants of Health in the Culture Shift Toward Compassionate Care …

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