For some, a career in medicine is bred in the bone. For others, like Dr Jesse Kancir, medicine was never a consideration until a serious industrial accident, during what he calls his “failed” lumberjack moment, peeled his hand open like an orange.
After months of recovery and rehabilitation at home in his small town in Northern Ontario, Dr Kancir said a lightbulb went off. “I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be, but I saw something really beautiful in medicine. I could see myself finding joy in it.”
While in medical school, his studies became intertwined with another passion – public policy. As President of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, he championed thoughtful and sustainable health policies that help to build a better health care system and to provide quality care to the patients it serves.
Instead of going straight into a residency after medical school, Dr Kancir headed to the University of Cambridge for a masters degree in public policy. “At medical school we were taught the importance of being physician-advocates, and for me the way to personally do that has been to dive deep into the art and science of policymaking,” he said.
When he returned to Canada, Dr Kancir worked as Policy Advisor to the Federal Minister of Health in 2016 where he served on a number of major portfolios, including Bill C-14 – Medical Assistance in Dying.
“Learning the importance of a good death is something every medical student comes to learn quickly,” Dr Kancir said. “During my early clinical training years, I lost my grandmother to cancer and it personalized end-of-life care. Medical assistance in dying – to me – is about expanding choice at the end-of-life and allowing for greater autonomy and dignity…I'm proud to belong to a profession that was instrumental in helping advance this enormous change in social policy.”
In 2017, and as a resident in Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Dr Kancir received a Doctors of BC Changemaker Award that recognizes residents and students who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in the cause of advancing the policies, views and goals of the profession through grassroots advocacy.
In the three years since earning the award, Dr Kancir’s passion for policy and medicine hasn’t slowed. As the youngest member of the Doctors of BC Council on Health Promotion (COHP), he continues to have a hand in shaping policy that enhances the profession and also helps British Columbians become and stay healthier.
“I feel that I’m not just a resident, but part of the medical community,” he said on the topic of COHP membership. “I'm working right now with the group, developing a position on Frailty in the Elderly. We have an excellent policy team from Doctors of BC, and being able to work with them in crafting the policy from both a content and process perspective has been a highlight so far of working with COHP.”
So what would he say to other residents looking to get involved in committee work with Doctors of BC? “Step up and apply. Resident voices are important,” said Dr Kancir. “I look forward to seeing other COHP members regularly, and doing good work, purposeful work, together.”
Now in his final 12 months of residency, Dr Kancir’s most recent experience has him working closely with Dr Bonnie Henry on the COVID-19 public health emergency. Here, he said, he’s discovered his fit.
“I enjoy issues management, and working between the worlds of evidence, decision making, management, and communications. Dr Henry is a phenomenal leader who has been gracious in training me while also handling the coronavirus response. I've lucked out in finding a good preceptor and a good learning opportunity simultaneously.”
With one foot still planted firmly at UBC as he completes his final year of residency, Dr Kancir has – last but not least – found time to mentor LGBTQ+ undergraduate medical students in their collective effort to create a community, a safe space, where they can be themselves.
“Being queer in medicine isn’t always easy,” he said. “I’m here one more year, so if I could convince UBC’s medical faculty and Doctors of BC to – at the very least – give the students some resources or opportunities to be themselves and grow community, I think it would have a meaningful impact on their lives.”
The cause is close to Dr Kancir’s heart as it not only reflects his own student experience, but also his belief that by nurturing an understanding of your personal brand and challenges, you become a better physician.
“Being yourself fully – that’s a gift we can give back to our patients,” he said.