Dr. Firas Al-Dhaher is hoping to inspire rural-based health research

Photograph of Dr. Firas Al-Dhaher

By Emily Leighton, MA'13

Practising family medicine in a small town of about 6,000 people, Dr. Firas Al-Dhaher, MD’05, appreciates the unique health challenges facing rural communities.

As the Site Director for the Petrolia Medical Clinic, he sees an under-serviced patient population, one that faces distinct socio-economic concerns and limited access to health care resources. “This is a population that has difficulty accessing medical services that are readily available in urban centres,” he explained.

Dr. Al-Dhaher is looking at different ways these issues play out in rural health settings, including the cost of medication and access to diagnostic imaging equipment. “I’m interested in understanding the challenges of access and availability of resources so I can provide better care for patients,” he said.

“I’m interested in understanding the challenges of access and availability of resources so I can provide better care for patients.” Dr. Firas Al-Dhaher

One of his recent research projects is focused on the diabetic burden in rural populations, developing a retrospective chart review of patients with deep vein thrombosis and/or pulmonary embolism. People living with diabetes face an increased risk of developing these conditions, which occur as a result of blood clots.

The project compares the prevalence, diagnosis and management of the conditions in rural emergency departments to tertiary care and academic centres. Are rural patients presenting with different characteristics? Are they managed differently when they seek treatment due to a lack of resources? These are questions Dr. Al-Dhaher is hoping to answer as part of the research project.  

“I want to shine a light on a problem that remains under diagnosed and determine if there is a significant statistical difference compared to urban centers,” he explained.

Working with fourth-year medical student Gaya Sivakumar on the project, Dr. Al-Dhaher says training is another important component. “One of my aims is to stimulate young minds to look at a problem and hopefully come up with a solution that can help our health care system, as well as save patients’ time, money and, ultimately, lives,” he said. “My hope is to inspire and start a more serious trend toward rural-based research.” 

Dr. Al-Dhaher grew up on a farm outside of London, Ontario, where his passion for rural medicine began. He completed medical school and his residency training in family medicine at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. 

Now a faculty member at the School, he says he is proud to have come full circle. “I’m grateful that Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is taking a very active interest in distributed education, providing opportunities for learners to train in rural and remote settings,” he said. “It’s important future physicians understand the specific challenges because they will come into contact with patients from rural communities regardless of where they work.”