Service to country and community inspired by medical career

Dr. Ian Ball posing in uniform at CFB BordenDr. Ian Ball, MD'02, is a member of Schulich Medicine & Denitstry's Office of Military Academic Medicine. (supplied photo)

By Emily Leighton

Dr. Ian Ball, MD’02, was a well-established critical care physician when he joined the Reserve Force of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 2018. Inspired to improve care for sick and injured CAF members, he supports medical training and contributes to trauma and toxicology research for the military.

As a member of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Office of Military Academic Medicine, Ball is building on a long tradition of support for the Canadian military.

Ball is an associate professor with the Departments of Medicine (Critical Care Medicine) and Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Clinically, he works as an intensivist in the Critical Care Trauma Centre at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), trauma physician with LHSC’s Trauma Program and consultant toxicologist with LHSC’s Toxicology Service. 

In the lead up to Remembrance Day, Ball shares his experiences, his inspiration to serve and advice for students.

What is your role with the Canadian Armed Forces?

I’ve been working as a reservist since 2020, after completing basic training.

I first applied when I was 18 years old because I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, they weren’t taking any fighter pilots at that time and by the time they were, I was in medical school. So, my career went off in a different direction until I applied again in 2018.

It’s been a really good experience. I work a fair bit as a reservist – I average about 40 to 50 days per year.

What inspired you to enlist at this point in your career? What keeps you motivated?  

The number one motivator is to improve the medical care of sick or injured Canadian Armed Forces members. Being midway through my career, I’m in a great position to help. I can help take care of patients directly, but also train more junior health-care providers to get better at providing care to military members.   

The second thing, to be honest, I’ve always been someone who wants to be part of the team. To me, the Canadian Armed Forces is the ultimate team. The relationships with different individuals have been one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved. So, feeling like in some small way I’m contributing to this great big, green team.

Teaching also allows me to contribute to the care of patients years down the road. If I’ve been able to contribute in even a small way, that’s very fulfilling to me.

What types of work are you doing as a reservist?

One of the jobs I do is called Critical Care Air Evac. If a member of the military gets hurt or sick anywhere in the world and is critically ill, a team of us will fly to go get them and bring them back safely. Thinking about walking into a foreign hospital where there is a very sick, perhaps scared, injured member, and being able to say, “hey, we’re here to take you home” – that’s pretty special to me.

I also do a lot of teaching for medical technicians, physicians’ assistants and physicians. It’s very similar to what I do on the civilian side, except process and protocols are a bit different in the military.

Having worked in an ICU for close to two decades and taking care of really sick trauma patients in a big trauma centre, I have a lot of experience that I can share with more junior health-care providers. There are many ways that we do that – mission planning and preparation, going though protocols, for example.

Some of the military members also come to our civilian hospitals to train. It’s a great experience for everybody. The members are extremely well received and great ambassadors for the military – military etiquette is certainly appreciated around the hospital.

You’re also engaged in research projects. Can you tell us about those?  

I focus mostly on trauma and toxicology, working with Defense Research Development Canada scientists. We’re looking at all sorts of research questions and collaborating on multiple projects. Like with a lot of medical research, the idea is to push the boundaries or expand the knowledge of providers at the bedside so we can improve the care of injured patients.

When you take care of a patient at the bedside, you’re treating one person. With research, you can treat many patients.

Are there any applications for your military research in the civilian world?

We try to design our research so there’s application on both the military and civilian sides. 

Some of the research that’s useful to the military can also be useful to rural and remote hospitals, for example. Military units are working out of rucksacks and so all they have to treat a patient, for at least the first few hours, is what they can carry on their back – which is very different from a large hospital, but it’s actually got some similarities with remote hospitals. In both situations, to get to the big trauma centre is going to take hours and likely an air transport.

What is your advice or message to students interested in the military?  

One of the challenges is that the military is such a massive organization, so it can be tough navigating and finding out the details that you’re interested in. I encourage students to reach out to the Office of Military Academic Medicine, as well as your local recruiting centre. We’re here to help mentor people who are interested and there are all kinds of tremendous opportunities available.

What are you reflecting on this Remembrance Day?

Being in uniform for Remembrance Day, it takes on even more significance for me – it’s a really important, special day. Each year, the military doctors in London get together and we go to the Cenotaph at Victoria Park. The response we get from people as we’re walking around is really powerful.

Like many Canadians, I’ll be thinking about the friends and colleagues who have served in recent conflicts, as well as family members who served historically.