Toronto, ON — As a first generation Canadian born to Ugandan refugee parents, Dr. Naheed Dosani grew up understanding the challenges of social injustice, inequity and poverty.
Dosani, a 33-year-old palliative care physician was honored by the Governor General of Canada, Julie Payette, with a Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division) at a ceremony in Toronto on Tuesday .
This prestigious national honour recognizes Dr. Dosani’s dedication to providing mobile, end-of-life care for the homeless and those with unreliable housing.
Dosani’s upbringing in Scarborough, Ontario, not only led him to appreciate the challenges facing marginalized people, but the opportunity he has to make positive change.
“As the child of two refugees, not a day went by when I didn’t hear about the terror and trauma of what my parents faced,” said Dosani. “From a young age, I’ve always pondered what a life is worth.”
While at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, Dosani gained a deeper understanding of health inequity in his own country and abroad by working in downtown Toronto, and travelling to Cambodia and Kenya to provide medical aid.
“I started to realize in medical school that we’re not just health care providers, we can be social change agents,” said Dosani.
While training as a family doctor in a downtown Toronto homeless shelter, Dosani met Terry, a man in his early thirties, who was suffering terribly with pain from head and neck cancer, while also dealing with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness.
After working to gain his trust, Dosani developed a pain management plan that Terry was willing to accept – care that offered hope for comfort in the final stages of his disease.
Sadly, Dosani returned to the shelter one morning to find out that Terry was found dead on the street having overdosed the night before. Terry’s death had a profound impact on Dosani. He was disappointed in medicine, health care and society.
“Life was waiting to give me that moment with Terry to actually realize what a life was worth,” reflected Dosani.
Disillusionment turned to empowerment, and the experience with Terry motivated Dosani to find ways to bridge the gap from the policy level to the individual level.
During his final year of residency in palliative care at the University of Toronto, Dosani approached the Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) with an idea: to expand ICHA’s primary and mental health programs for the homeless and those with unreliable housing to include palliative care needs for those with life-limiting illness.
After a year of planning, Dosani founded and launched Palliative Education And Care for the Homeless (PEACH) on the day he graduated in July 2014.
PEACH delivers community-based hospice palliative care to society’s most vulnerable individuals regardless of their housing status or factors such as poverty or substance use.
The program brings housing, mental health and healthcare providers together to plan an individual’s care while recognizing, but not judging, that person’s circumstances.
The PEACH team includes Dosani, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and recently, a second palliative care physician. Since 2014, the team has treated and managed care for more than 200 individuals in downtown Toronto.
“There’s a growing recognition of the limits of how we deliver health care to marginalized populations. PEACH is an example of how collaboration between different sectors can work well to address complex problems,” said Dosani.
The PEACH team has inspired other cities including Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and Seattle to develop similar programs. The value that PEACH brings to individuals fuels Dosani to continue to advocate for ongoing innovation and equitable care. “From the most superficial level, to the deepest roots in society, we can have impact through the lens of health and wellbeing. To what degree we make that change is up to each one of us,” said Dosani.