Being the youngest of four children probably helped Dr Richard Merchant develop the skills he continues to use in his 33-year career as an anesthesiologist. Negotiating, exploring, and mediating are important to survive both childhood in a large family and to thrive within a work environment that relies heavily on team work.
Dr Merchant is not only making a difference for patients at the Royal Columbian Hospital every day, he is also teaching and empowering a new generation of anesthesiologists who will carry on his innovative approaches and learnings into the future.
An early interest in anesthesiology
The starting point for his journey to be an anesthesiologist was as a locum doing family medicine around many rural areas of BC. During one of those locums, he worked with a physician-anesthesiologist who became a mentor. “Physics and chemistry were the subjects that attracted me during medical school – so anesthesiology was very interesting to me.” Dr Merchant went full force into a four year program – two years at the University of Western Ontario in London and finishing his last two years at UBC.
After graduation, he worked in the University Hospital in London, Ontario for five years “ it was an excellent experience – it was a world class, clinical, academic, and research hospital and I was very fortunate to be part of that group.” The foundation was now set for a return to BC, and to put his accumulated knowledge to work to benefit patients and build a stronger health care system.
Upon his return to BC, Dr Merchant helped set up the cardiac surgery program at the RCH. In 1994, he helped pioneer the Rapid Surgical Recovery protocol for cardiac surgery, a model of perioperative patient care designed to return patients quickly to health, which is now known as Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS).
In his drive to make a real difference for patients and the health care system, Dr Merchant has been a primary investigator for nine research studies and has helped author more than 40 research publications and commentaries on best practices in peri-operative surgical care and anesthesiology. “Research studies is not just a job – its capturing and sharing knowledge that continually informs and improves health care.”
In addition, he has taken on a key role in education and professional development. He is a clinical professor of anesthesiology, pharmacology and therapeutics at UBC, served 15 years on the executive of the B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society and has been an active member of the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society since 1983.
Looking forward with optimism
Dr Merchant notes, “The practice of anesthesiology has changed – the medications we use are better than ever. The technology is wonderful - in fact, even pulse oximetry technology was not available when I started.”
His involvement in improving surgical patients’ care has been long-standing and his positive influence immeasurable. Team work best sums up Dr Merchant’s career from working as a locum, to educating future doctors and improving patient care – “I’ve always had a good team around me’.
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