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Raise Her Up: Shazma Mithani

9-minute read

Meet emergency room doctor, mother of two and female powerhouse, Shazma Mithani. During the workday, Shazma splits her workdays between the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

We connect with Shazma who is working on the front line in the midst of a global pandemic, to find out what motivates her and how she’s using her voice to advocate for our healthcare system.

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Raise Her Up - Shazma Mitani - Poppy Barley Raise Her Up - Shazma Mithani - Poppy Barley

“Making a difference in my patient’s worst day is what inspires me to keep going, despite the sacrifices my family has to make for my career.”

“Making a difference in my patient’s worst day is what inspires me to keep going, despite the sacrifices my family has to make for my career.”

Raise Her Up - Shazma Mithani - Poppy Barley

Day job:

Given my shift work, my day varies between ER shifts, parenting, teaching, advocacy work, and administrative work.

What I'm reading:

A Court of Thorns and Roses – it came highly recommended by a friend. I’m also reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with my daughter.

What I'm listening to:

I’ve been all over Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast during the pandemic. I also love true crime podcasts and am always looking for new suggestions!

Workout of choice:

If playing ultimate frisbee counts, then that’s an easy choice. Otherwise, a good sweaty spin workout.

What I'm doing when I'm not at work:

Catching up on sleep and emails, and trying to squeeze in moments with my family. Also baking and cake decorating when I can find the time.

Unpopular opinion:

Cilantro tastes like soap.

Raise Her Up - Shazma Mithani - Poppy Barley

The What

What inspired you to begin your career in medicine?

I was never one of those people who always knew I wanted to become a doctor.  It wasn’t until I job-shadowed a family friend during high school that I discovered that medicine was much more than book knowledge and applied science; that there was an art to it. I came to understand how complex it was to integrate medical knowledge into the context of each patient and formulate a care plan that will work for each individual. That spurred my initial interest in medicine – the problem solving and patient care together.

However, I’ve come to realize more and more over the years of practicing as an Emergency Physician what the art of medicine really means.  The human side of medicine isn’t often talked about, especially at a time when getting sick is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. When I see patients, it is often on one of the worst days of their lives. The outcomes aren’t always as expected, and there’s so much more to the patient encounter that goes beyond the medical care. Medicine is about finding a balance between the science, the problem solving, and most importantly, the compassion you show to each patient. Making a difference in my patient’s worst day is what inspires me to keep going, despite the sacrifices my family has to make for my career. 

How has your daily work changed in the case of the COVID-19 crisis?

At the start of the pandemic, things were very uncertain for everyone. We weren’t sure if there would be adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all healthcare providers, and we had no idea what the case numbers were going to look like. I was anxious about going to work, about bringing COVID-19 home to my family, and about the constantly changing guidelines on how best to keep safe. I remember the first time I was in the emergency department when a very sick patient came in early in the pandemic. While on my way home, I called one my closest friends (who is also an ER doctor) and burst into tears. Those early months were filled with a lot of fear and uncertainty. 

Fast forward to today, and I’m now in more of a routine as our province faces the second wave of the pandemic. The biggest change day to day is continuing to be diligent about PPE. The way we see patients is so much different than a year ago; we put on new PPE and take it off in a meticulous fashion for every patient. This is particularly challenging as the emergency department continues to get busier and I want to make sure people aren’t waiting too long.  

What’s the best way we can support our frontline healthcare workers/AHS jobs during this time?

If you or a family member have an interaction with a healthcare worker, a simple thank you goes a long way. Let us know that you see what we do and that you support us. In the last 8 months, the patient interactions that have uplifted me the most are those that go out of their way to let me know that they stand with doctors and appreciate what we are doing for our patients during this pandemic (and beyond).

RHU Shazma Walking
RHU Shazma Walking 2

What would you classify as your most meaningful professional and personal achievements?

Professionally, my most meaningful achievement is completing my rigorous 5 year residency and passing the hardest exam of my life in 2014. I successfully matched to the best emergency medicine residency program in the country here at the University of Alberta in 2009. Getting through the 25-30 hour call shifts, grueling rotations, and then studying for what felt like forever for my Royal College exam was all worth it now that I’m on the other side using my skills and knowledge to help my patients. 

Personally, it’s raising my two children alongside my husband, Matt. Of course, there are times when I want to just plug my ears and sing to myself, but this makes the moments where I get to witness our growth as a family even more special. It’s always so rewarding when my daughter and I are able to work through her feelings and frustrations together, or when my son learns a new phrase and can communicate with me in a different way. It’s really wonderful to have such an immense impact on such little people!

Which women have impacted your life the most (personally or professionally)?

My mother and both grandmothers have taught me the importance of being a strong and independent woman who works hard and does everything for her family. My own mother immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. She was trained as a dietician, but her skills were not transferable here, so she (and my dad) worked minimum wage jobs in order to support my sister and I. Despite working a myriad of shifts, she helped raise us and somehow always managed to have a home cooked meal on the table every evening. She always emphasized the importance of education, so that my sister and I could have a better life. I wouldn't be where I am today without her.  

Professionally, I can’t pick just one. I’m lucky to work with such an amazing group of women.  These women have paved the way and shown me how to balance being successful at my career while still finding time for my family and myself. They have picked me up from my lowest points and lifted me up to my highest points. They always challenge me to be the best I can be and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group of friends. 


Raise Her Up - Shazma Mithani - Poppy Barley

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I have to remind myself of this regularly as my older self too, but get better at it everyday. 

What professional projects/initiatives do you have in the works for 2020-21?

The first is my ongoing advocacy for every Albertan’s equal right to accessible public healthcare. I’m excited to continue to work with grassroots groups, including one called Eyes Forward Alberta, to keep shedding light on the importance of investing in our existing public healthcare system to keep Albertans safe and healthy.

The second is a wellness and resiliency program that I’ve created for the emergency medicine training program at the University of Alberta. This was not an area that was focussed on while I was in residency. The importance of prioritizing personal wellness has become more evident to me as I’ve progressed through my career and parenthood. This is even more important now, when frontline healthcare workers are facing unprecedented professional and political stressors. The risk of burnout is higher than ever, and I am very much looking forward to working with the residents to build up skills to help keep our mental and physical health a priority. 

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