A love for all things rural

By George Ardy, BA'15

Growing up on a farm on the outskirts of London gave Dr. Firas Al-Dhaher an appreciation for smaller communities and the collaboration they can inspire.

“Moving out of the city was one of the greatest things that could’ve happened to me,” Dr. Al-Dhaher recollected. “It’s where I was able to formulate my personality and develop my passion for everything rural.”

He now gets to apply that passion daily at his practice in Petrolia.

Dr. Al-Dhaher is currently involved with the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry’s Distributed Education program as lead physician for the Rural Health Medical Residency program and also serves as Site Director for the Petrolia Medical Clinic. These roles allow him to supervise and mentor students and residents.

“I’m absolutely infatuated with teaching. It’s so rewarding,” he said.

The family medicine specialist believes that he and his colleagues benefit from the training almost as much as the students do.

“When I’m mentoring a student I’m passing along things I’ve learned throughout my life,” Dr. Al-Dhaher explained. “At the same time, they’re enriching my experience by telling me some of things they’ve been exposed to in medical school.”

The health care team in Petrolia is a great asset for Dr. Al-Dhaher and provides residents with a well-rounded experience. Each team member has their own area of interest. That way, if a resident wants more clinical exposure in a specialty such as geriatrics or women’s health, they have that option.

The future of the Petrolia site is bright. For the last three years the site has matched fully after the first round of resident applications and there is growing interest among undergraduates who would like to study there.

Another metric of success is the percentage of past residents who have chosen to return after graduation. In five years of involvement, the program has trained 10 residents. Of those, six have returned to practise in the area, or are thinking of returning.

“We’ve had this stellar group of residents who have gone through our system and now want to engage back in it,” said Dr. Al-Dhaher. “They want to give back to the community and the site that provided them with such a valuable experience.”

Dr. Al-Dhaher was recognized by his peers when he was awarded the Bluewater Health Outstanding Contribution to Hospital Award in 2015. He received the award for educational contributions made to Bluewater Health, such as enabling the hospital to take in students and residents. He describes winning the award as a humbling experience.

“I work with a tremendous group of colleagues. They are hard-working, down-to-earth and clinically astute,” explained Dr. Al-Dhaher. “I certainly feel blessed and fortunate to be recognized among them.”

There is another group of people he would like to thank.

“When I received the award I dedicated it to my residentsto all the students who came in and enriched my life,” he said. “I feel like I’ve contributed to their education, but they have also definitely contributed to mine.”