Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #37: Dr. Shazma Mithani
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on August 20, 2023
The 37th person I’m profiling in my Q&A series for paid newsletter subscribers is:
Dr. Shazma Mithani, Edmonton ER Doctor
Getting to know Dr. Shazma Mithani (she/her):
Dr. Shazma Mithani, 39, is an Edmonton-based Emergency Room Doctor who is passionate about using knowledge and skills from her work in the ER to educate and advocate in the community. She started to use social media in her line of work when the pandemic began, at first to stay up to date on the latest information, then as an expert voice herself, “to help cut through the noise of growing misinformation surrounding COVID-19, as well as advocating for public health protections to help ease the pressure off our stressed healthcare system.”
Today, Shazma regularly shares useful information on a range of topics in the form of infographics and videos, all aimed at prevention—helping keep you out of the ER (she’s lovely but you should try to avoid seeing her in the ER wherever possible!) She’s an engaging, credible, local source in the current fight against health misinformation and it’s been amazing to see how her online advocacy has grown over the years.
The last few years have led to some pretty disheartening moments for healthcare workers (to put it lightly), and I hope Shazma and all healthcare workers know how much deep and utter respect so many of us have for them.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Shazma:
Can you talk about the work you do / your area of expertise and passion?
I’m an ER doctor, which means I’m a specialist in all things emergency related. I work in an Emergency Room at two different hospitals; one that sees exclusively pediatric patients, and one that sees mostly adults. I spend my shifts gathering information from patients by listening to and trying to understand their concerns. I gather more information by doing different tests (like blood work and imaging tests) and then come up with a plan for the patient. This could range from reassurance that the tests are normal with discharge home, to close followup in the community by a specialist, to admission to hospital.
My biggest passion within my clinical work is the interactions with patients and their families to help ease their concerns, treat their symptoms to help them feel better, and try to work together to figure out what the best plan forward is. I also love my work family—the hard days are so much easier because of the amazing crew that I work with. There’s no one who truly understands how challenging (and rewarding) this work can be more than my colleagues.
Can you talk about how you got into doing what you do?
I always knew I liked biological sciences. I did pharmacology (the study of how medications work) in undergrad, because I thought I might want to do research. I figured out pretty quickly that research wasn’t for me, so started thinking about other careers in the biological science area. I’d always had an interest in medicine, and had some exposure to it with volunteering at my local hospital starting in high school. Medicine felt like a natural fit with its balance of the human side of science.
I ended up getting into medical school after 3 years of undergrad, and completed medical school at Western (in London, ON). I then came back to Edmonton to complete 5 years of residency training in emergency medicine. I was drawn to emergency medicine because it felt like a great balance of so many different parts of medicine. I remember going through my clerkship rotations in medical school and being interested in almost all of them. Emergency medicine brings all specialities together and immediately felt like home when I rotated through.
Can you share how social media plays a role in the work you do? Always just generally curious about people’s relationships, approach and experience / response to how they use social media and how it has helped their work.
Social media plays varying roles in the work that I do, and it’s definitely a two way relationship.
On the one hand, social media helps me keep track of the misinformation and “health trends” that are out there so that I’m more informed and know what to read around and dig into to help in my clinical work.
On the other hand, because a lot of my social media presence is now on the education and advocacy side of things, what I see at work also informs the content that I create on social media. The public education and advocacy piece has certainly grown over the last year or so and has helped give me some amazing opportunities to connect with people and organizations within the city and community (off social media).
Of course, there are so many downsides to social media that I definitely struggle with. The trolls are everywhere, especially when I dive into debunking misinformation. I’d also be lying if I said it wasn’t addicting. I often have to take deliberate breaks from it, because there’s so much drive to continue to create and engage in order to keep growing my presence, but given everything else I’m doing, it wouldn’t be unsustainable! I find the best disconnects are when I’m away from home (either camping with no signal, or on a vacation where I feel like I can draw a clear boundary). To be honest, when I’m not, “off the grid,” I’m constantly struggling to find balance and working on this daily.
Would love if you could also share about how your social media use has changed over the last couple of years—and your intentional education / from videos to infographics / etc. that you share when it comes to healthcare/education.
If you can believe it, I was barely present on social media before 2020. I had all the accounts, but I mostly consumed and rarely posted. Don’t get me wrong, I consumed a lot, but I wasn’t a social media personality. On Twitter, in particular, which ended up being how I started to grow my presence, I think I had 2 or 3 tweets total prior to 2020, and barely looked at it.
Of course, this all changed when the pandemic hit. I started to use Twitter as a way to consume information and stay up to date on what the latest information was on COVID-19 from around the world. That quickly evolved to being an expert voice to help cut through the noise of growing misinformation surrounding COVID-19, as well as advocating for public health protections to help ease the pressure off our stressed healthcare system.
As the pandemic has wound down, it became clear to me that social media has become a place where people consume health information. I had gained a very large following on Twitter, and I didn’t want to lose this captive audience, but also knew that people were just done with hearing about COVID-19.
At this point, I also could see the ongoing and lasting impacts of the pandemic on our healthcare system, and wanted to play a role in protecting it. I feel very strongly that free and accessible healthcare is a fundamental human right, and it’s something that is constantly under threat of privatization and barriers to access. So, I started to use my platform to educate the public.
The idea was, if I could educate and empower people with health information, maybe they would be able to use this information to inform their decision on whether they should go to the ER or could wait to see their family doctor.
Examples of educational content Dr. Shazma Mithani shares on Instagram!
Can you share a memorable moment or ‘successes’ in your career / life?
In recent memory, one of the most memorable successes in my career was being awarded one of the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medals. The most meaningful piece of this was that my name was put forward by Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. Much of the time, the local advocacy that I poured so much into during the pandemic felt like it wasn’t moving the needle or making a difference. This amazing honour helped me see that it’s often the less obvious impacts on the community and individuals that are the most meaningful.
Can you share a challenging moment, obstacles or failure in your career / life? And perhaps what you learned from it or how you overcame it? Is there something about pandemic challenges you’d like to share here?
I’m going to get pretty real here—the darkest time I’ve ever faced in my career was the height of the pandemic.
The pressures were coming from all directions. There was a prolonged time during the pandemic where we had constant pressure on the healthcare system because of people getting very sick from COVID-19, and multiple points where we were worried the system would collapse and we wouldn’t be able to treat anyone (whether they had COVID-19 or some other medical condition). I was spending my days working my shifts in the ER, picking up extra shifts in the ICU, and trying to use my public platforms to advocate for action to be taken to protect our healthcare system. It was a lot. It got to the point where I found no joy in work, I was withdrawn at home, it was an effort to get out of bed in the morning, and everything felt pretty hopeless. It took a lot of work with my therapist and forced time off (from work and social media) to start to recover from the moral injury endured during the pandemic. This is still an ongoing journey.
The true degree of burnout and injury that healthcare workers face isn’t talked about enough. As I mentioned above, no one else truly can grasp how much this work takes from us. Every single patient we see, we carry with us (for years, or even decades), and it’s not uncommon for us to prioritize the health of others over our own physical and mental health.
Thankfully, with a lot of work, reflection, and reassessment of my priorities over the last year, I’m starting to find joy again in the work that I do. I’m not going to lie – I was worried I’d never get that back.
Can you talk about perhaps a common misconception about or something that might be surprising for people to learn about your work / industry?
I’m often still surprised by how many people understand the ER to be first come, first served. Fortunately, it’s not. I say fortunately, because the ER is meant for emergencies (of varying degrees), which means that the sickest people always get seen first. I know it’s not often received well, and waiting when you are sick and worried is frustrating, but if you’re not getting rushed right in, it’s probably a good thing. Please be patient with us. We are always trying our best.
Examples of educational video content from Dr. Shazma Mithani.
Can you share advice for others who might want to do what you do?
For anyone thinking of entering medical school and then thinking of a career in emergency medicine, I always tell them to have a good self care and resiliency routine in place before starting. Medicine, and emergency medicine in particular, has high burnout rates. It’s common for this to go unrecognised and unmanaged until it’s too late, so it’s so important to have a good routine, including a good therapist and support network, in place to help you through the challenging times.
If you’re in medical school and are thinking about emergency medicine, be sure to spend time shadowing ER doctors and asking a lot of questions so you have a good sense of whether this career will be the right fit for you. One of the downsides of medicine is that it’s hard to change career paths once you’ve entered residency.
Can you talk about how people can support your work?
Be good stewards of the healthcare system. My biggest concern with the work that I do, is that if the system continues to be stressed and used inappropriately, the push to privatize will continue. I want healthcare to remain free and accessible for every Canadian who needs it, but we need to work together to keep that happening.
If you’re worried and don’t know where to go, or you think something is an emergency, of course come to the ER (even if you’re unsure, the safest thing to do is to come in). However, it’s also important to think about calling your family doctor’s office or HealthLink to see if it’s something that does need the ER.
Keep educating yourself with credible and reliable health information so you can continue to be empowered with information to help you make the best decisions you can for the health of you and your family.
Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you do for fun?
I love checking out new local restaurants with friends and family. I also love being active and have been really getting into tennis over the last year or so. It’s great to be able to learn a new sport as an adult and know that it’s possible. I would say my biggest passion for sport still lies with ultimate frisbee. I didn’t start playing until I was in my early 30s, but it’s the sport I always say I’ll play, “until my body no longer lets me.”
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix?
If you haven’t already watched Ted Lasso (on Apple TV), this is my number one recommendation. It’s a total feel good show that is just what the world needs right now. It shows that staying curious, being a good person, and always looking for the best in people or situations goes a long way.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
I’m currently reading The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama. For anyone who’s feeling discouraged about the world we live in and the direction things are headed in, this helps reframe things as not completely terrible.
There are so many podcasts that I love, so it’s hard to pick just one! One of my current favourites is The Unbiased Science Podcast. It tackles different topics every week and uses science to dig into them.
If you’re local to Alberta and like politics, I highly recommend The Strategists. These 3 guys are brilliant and hilarious at the same time!
What is a fav local restaurant or store you’d recommend?
Another really hard question, so I’ll pick one of each! My favourite restaurant is still RGE RD. It’s a classic, but never disappoints. My favourite store (which should come as no surprise to those who know me) is Poppy Barley. I love their ethical approach to fashion, and also the amazing sisters (Justine and Kendall Barber) behind the brand.
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
Both national parks (Banff and Jasper) are such a gift and privilege to be able to live near. I really love Jasper National Park because it feels so low key and beautiful. It has picturesque, turquoise lakes, amazing hikes, and is a dark sky sanctuary. So, if you’re only in Alberta for a short period, definitely check out the Jasper area – you won’t be disappointed!
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