The leadership we need

Dr. Naheed Dosani speaks up for health justice

Welcome to At The End Of the Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter for a people-first perspective on the news.

The day I sent my last newsletter, Ontario was treated to a Friday afternoon press conference that lit a match to simmering public anger. I’ve never seen such a unanimous wall of rage in my Twitter feed.1

Since then, Ontario’s premier has apologized (in an infuriatingly backwards way, by apologizing for moving “too fast,” when his government has absolutely failed to do the right things fast enough). 

Trying to apply logic to these politics feels like pretzeling your brain.

So, moving forward I’ll occasionally take a break from the politics to focus on people — specific, amazing individuals who are stepping up to fill the void left by politicians who are either too inept or malicious to handle the task of protecting people during a pandemic.

Getting to know Dr. Naheed Dosani

Dr. Naheed Dosani is one of many doctors I follow on Twitter for a gut check on what we truly need to get people through this pandemic.

In the pandemic, he has become the medical director of the Covid isolation hotel program in Peel, a region northwest of the city of Toronto, but his primary work is as a palliative care physician with people experiencing homelessness.

We got on a mid-week phone call and he was gracious and fun to talk to. I’m super-grateful we connected because of course, time is precious, and never more than now.

I began by asking if Naheed ever thought he’d specialize in palliative healthcare for people experiencing homelessness. He responded by telling me about his roots.

I’m born and raised by people who came as refugees from Uganda, fleeing the Idi Amin crisis. I always knew I would use whatever profession I chose as a springboard for social justice in our communities.

Naheed admired the international aid work of Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam and thought he might work in global health but during his residency as a medical student, his life took a different turn.

“Homelessness is a terminal disease”

Naheed’s instinct toward international aid was re-focused to a population much closer to home — people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, where he was doing med school.

I met a man named Terry. He was in his early 30s and had widespread cancer. As I began to get to know him, I realized he didn’t have access to care he needed. I went through his chart and you could see he was presenting to hospitals and ERs in crisis, seeking pain control, and he was being turned away.

I built a rapport with him and we were going to get him palliative care but before we could, he overdosed on a combination of alcohol and street drugs. It was life-changing and traumatizing for me. I had to take a break and reflect on Terry’s life. 

What I saw in Terry was an injustice. How could we live in a world where we offer world-class healthcare and palliative care, and yet have people experiencing homelessness fall through the cracks again and again?

After his experience with Terry in Toronto, Naheed realized that palliative care for people experiencing homelessness truly is a global health issue as “marginalization affects access to healthcare in every city, coast to coast, around the world.”

Here in Canada, people experiencing homelessness are this country’s sickest population.

People experiencing homelessness are four times more likely to have cancer. Their average life expectancy is 34 - 47 years old. Homelessness cuts your life span by half. As a social determinant of health, homelessness is a terminal disease.

Leadership during Covid

Pre-pandemic, I’m not sure I followed any doctors or epidemiologists at all. But now, I rely on them more than ever, especially those who, like Naheed, push back on bad public health policy.

I asked Naheed about the advocacy role that so many doctors have willingly taken on:

It’s a unique time for all of us. Many of us have taken our platforms to this new level around Covid because it’s our duty. It’s part of our moral obligation to speak out to improve the health of the people we serve and care for. With that has come certain troubles that have caused great strife. I’ve been targeted with death threats and racial slurs on social media.

You tend to see patterns and spikes. After George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, when the messaging started to move toward anti-racism and Covid, and you’d see the hatred rise. Even recently, when cases have been more focused on racialized people and essential workers, you see the spike in hatred again because I’m advocating for equity for racialized people. I’m advocating for vaccines to be prioritized for those populations, and it’s not a zero sum game but people get upset about that.

Then there’s the anti-lockdown crowd, the anti-mask crowd, the anti-vaxx crowd. Some of them overlap, some are specific. When our message resonates with people, you tend to start to see the hatred increase.

How to handle these frustrating times

When I ask how Naheed handles the frustration, he mentions his supportive wife and friends, hobbies like running and board games (he likes Monopoly, especially the card game version).

The key, however, is creating space for reflection, whether it’s alone, writing in a diary, or with others, in conversation. He prioritizes space for reflection at work, too.

Addressing grief is a really key component. I hold grief circles for the inner city health community on Zoom, once or twice a week. We remember the people we lost in the last week, we reflect what it was like to care for them. And then we hold a moment of silence and we blow out the flame, it’s a virtual candle, and we end the Zoom session and we go back to doing it again.

Grief circles are a key way for me to process grief with colleagues. It’s been very powerful. 

How does he handle it all and stay on track with the work?

Cleanses from social media are really helpful. Taking an hour, or day, or couple days away is a great way to reset yourself. When things have gotten turbulent, I’ve reached out for friends and colleagues to ask them, Why did we push for this? To have them remind me.

Sometimes switching modalities -- Twitter can be great but it can be an echo chamber of anger. I’ll switch to an op-ed to explain a Tweet.

But also being more constructive and trying not to make every post a complaint. I used to have a ratio rule — for every three negative posts, I like to have a joke. But it’s really hard to do that right now in a pandemic, when you see people who get sick and die who never should’ve gotten sick in the first place. 

Ultimately, his work on social media, and speaking in the media in general, has been rewarding.

The best thing has been realizing there’s a caring community that supports health workers and really believes in us and that really gets me through the darkest of times. I’m grateful to them.

If you enjoyed getting to know Naheed, follow him on social media and let him know you’re grateful for his work, too.

You can find him on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, where you can follow his regular panel discussion called Healthcare in Canada, which is @HCinCanada or #HCinCanada.

As I sign off, a big congrats to Andrea, who was the winner of my Simon and Schuster children’s book giveaway last week.

And finally, I’m thinking a lot about how to build and grow what we’re doing here together, as we connect over the need for perspective in a news-saturated world. I’m considering more sponsorships, business opportunities and starting a Patreon. I’ve learned through replies you’ve sent over the past year that you have a wealth of knowledge and opinions. If you have thoughts on what you’d like to see (or not!) as I grow At The End Of the Day, let me know. My inbox is always open, just hit reply.

And while you’re at it, hit the heart below to show this newsletter some love.

Take care out there,

Hannah

✨✨✨ At The End Of the Day is edited by my brilliant newsletter other half, Ishani Nath ✨✨✨


“Social justice in healthcare work is a calling more than a job. It’s a purpose. I want to empower people to see the potential they can have in helping communities heal” — Dr. Naheed Dosani


What to check out:

How to Talk to Your Family and Friends About Abolishing the Police, Friday Things. I always love this newsletter by my friend Stacy Lee Kong but wow, I loved this one something fierce. Deeply-researched, sharp and strong. We don’t all need to agree. But we do need to talk. Get the facts and context.

The Walrus Leadership Forum: Strengthening Canadian Journalism. This is a free event on May 11 and it’s packed with big brains. Register!

The Encampment Support Network in Toronto. Why are there so many homeless encampments in Toronto? Read more here.

ALAB Clinic. Lawyers providing street level advice, social and peer support outreach in Toronto.


Media Girlfriends scholarship deadline April 30!

Do you know a Black high school student who is heading to journalism school? Do you know a woman or non-binary student studying journalism, tech, communications or media studies? Media Girlfriends, a group I am so proud to be part of, has three scholarships of $10 000 each and the deadline to apply is April 30. For Canadian students.