Learner Perspectives: Dr. Curtis Van Doormaal on the inspiration and influence of family

When Dr. Curtis Van Doormaal was 11, his mother died from cancer. He says this big and very specific moment in his life had a profound impact on him and his future.

“Her illness and death was the main driving force behind medicine. It has provided me with endless motivation,” Van Doormaal said.

Dr. Curtis Van Doormaal in a military medical tentHe always sought to forge a life path that at the heart of it was one of perpetual change, unique and interesting. And in addition to his mother’s untimely passing, his grandparents’ experience during the Second World War was a factor in his pursuit of the Canadian Armed Forces. 

“I remember well hearing my grandparents talk about being occupied in Holland after surviving bombings, and finding themselves living in ditches while catering to German troops,” he said.

A growing interest in global health and the work of Dr. James Orbinski developed during his academic pursuits, solidified his direction. Van Doormaal joined the Medical Officer Training Program and began his medical school studies.

Following his family medicine residency, Van Doormaal was deployed as a flight surgeon to Kuwait in support of operations in Iraq. He also served as Senior Medical Authority in support of the Government of Canada and the Veterans Affairs delegation to Belgium to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele. Additionally, he supported medical screening for the Canadian Space Agency during astronaut selection in 2016.

It was during his deployment, that he confirmed an interest in anesthesia and began his residency training in 2018.

Now a senior resident, Van Doormaal has earned a long list of achievements including rising through the military ranks and receiving medals for long service, good conduct and for his deployment. He’s proud of his education, the training he has undertaken in two medical specialities, for the care he delivers as an ER physician and the skills he continues to develop in working with patients.

It’s his family that provides him with the greatest amount of pride. A father of four, Van Doormaal has had children at each stage of his training and is beginning to see how the dedication to two professional pursuits grounded in the care and safety of others is having a positive effect on his children.

“Integrating children into a complex medical education is definitely a huge accomplishment. I’ve managed to advance my career, while not being entirely absent from my family and I’m beginning to see the fruits of that with my eldest daughter – the values she possesses; how she can communicate and express herself; and the things that she cares about. Putting this together was a monumental task and that has been my biggest accomplishment,” Van Doormaal said.