Resident Spotlight: Dr. Michael Pariser – Taking aim at pain

Even before 32-year-old Dr. Michael Pariser officially completes all his medical training, he has become a pioneer in Canadian medicine. The Ingersoll native is one of the first medical residents in Canada to begin training in the newly accredited pain medicine residency program.

After seven years of lobbying by Dr. Pat Morley-Forster, Medical Director of the Pain Management Program of St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Professor of Anesthesiology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, pain medicine recently became recognized by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada as a designated subspecialty. On July 1, Western’s Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and St. Joseph’s became the first medical school and academic teaching hospital in Canada to host the training program.

The two-year residency program includes one full year at St. Joseph’s outpatient pain management clinic where residents will learn from experts from various disciplines. Other rotations consist of neurology, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and paediatric pain for comprehensive training in the treatment of and rehabilitation for acute, chronic and cancer pain conditions.

Dr. Pariser is one of two residents who have begun the training in London. He is joined by Dr. Amjad Bader of Saudi Arabia.

A Schulich Medicine graduate, Dr. Pariser was completing a residency in anesthesiology in London when the opportunity arose to gain a specialty in pain medicine through the new training program.

“I think care for chronic pain is something that hasn’t been done as well as it should be in the Canadian system,” said the young physician. “If you have specialties and fellowships like this to provide training then care, and access to care, will improve. And that’s what I’m most excited about.”

The specialty training comes at a critical time, said Dr. Morley-Forster. “Chronic pain affects about 25 per cent of the Canadian adult population, rising to 50 per cent in the elderly. The toll is far reaching, impacting the physical emotional and psycho-social well- being of individuals as well as their families. Society suffers too with loss in work productivity, in disability support, and in health care dollars.”

At the same time, there has been is a gap in the availability of specialized care for chronic pain and in the training of medical students and young doctors, said Dr. Morley-Forster, who received the Canadian Anesthesiology Society’s 2013 Gold Medal for her role in championing and creating pain medicine as a subspecialty. The Gold Medal is the society’s highest honour given in recognition of excellence in matters related to anesthesia.

The hope for new pain specialists like Dr. Pariser and Dr. Bader, she said, is not only to become experts in the field but also be “leaders and ambassadors” for this new discipline.

Dr. Bader, who completed his undergraduate medical degree in Saudi Arabia and a residency in anesthesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, will be bringing his pain management expertise back to Saudi Arabia.

“There is a great need for this kind of expertise in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “My goal is to eventually help establish such training there.”

In Canada, Dr. Pariser sees an opportunity to “de-stigmatize pain” and be an advocate for people with chronic pain, which he says is often seen as a failure of moral character rather than a medical problem.

“The general public doesn’t realize that people with awful chronic pain conditions are two steps removed from themselves. Everyone is one traffic light, one kitchen accident, one cancer problem, one surgery, one work-related accident away from having this happen to them.”