David Carr of The University Health Network on knowing your value, shooting for the stars and driving clinical change on a global scale

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Dr. David Carr is an Associate Professor and the Associate Director of Risk Management and Faculty Development at the University Health Network (UHN), a leading healthcare and medical research organization in Toronto, Ontario. David is a decorated, recognized and respected medical practitioner who has served in emergency rooms in Canada and Australia and worked as an Olympic Athletic Physician. He is currently a Medical Consultant for Medcan and the acting Medical Director of Stadium Medicine for the Toronto Blue Jays. When not leading physician recruitment and patient risk management at UHN, Dr. Carr has a regular segment on a podcast and speaks internationally on leading medical practices. He is on a mission to impact clinical change on a global level so that others can lead more healthy lives.

What made you want to get into the medical field in the first place? What was the journey that you took to get where you are today?

Medicine is the only thing that I’ve ever wanted to do and I’m so thankful I’ve been able to live my dream. Medicine for me, was about following a passion and thirst for knowledge about the human body and wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t think I really understood what that meant at age 22 when I first started med school. At the beginning of my career, I had the chance to work oversees in emergency medicine in Australia, which was an amazing experience that set me up for my first emergency medicine position in Toronto at UHN. That is how I got my start. I love emergency medicine because at its core, it’s about high stakes, high impact problem solving. That being said, you learn to appreciate the level of trust that is imparted on you as an emergency physician because of your position, and that is something that should never be taken for granted. What’s kept me going as been the ability to have that impact on people’s lives. 

Tell me about some of the most exciting developments that are going on now in your field. What has you the most excited for the future?  

While healthcare in Ontario has become a contentious political issue, technology is going to do a lot to help revolutionize the medical field. With doctors needing to absorb more patients with the same amount of resources, AI will play a big role in hospitals and emergency rooms. Streamlining access to medical records will also be something that will revolutionize our system because it is highly inefficient to not be able to access the records of a patient that were originally drafted in another location. Our system will need to be digitized because with our aging population, not having an E-health strategy leaves us ill-equipped to handle some of the incoming burdens on our system. These are the things that both present the greatest opportunity for innovation, but also the greatest challenges.

If someone said to you that they wanted to get into medicine, what would you say to them?

It’s funny because emergency medicine has become a much more “popular” avenue to go down. Some of that is due to Hollywood and shows like ER or Grey’s Anatomy. For those who are looking for the kind of job that is fast-paced, highly variable and always different, the emergency route is a good option. That being said, it is easy to burn out because of the nature of the work we do. As a whole, medicine is a noble profession but it is a very long journey. It is a wonderful career that supports diversity.

What does being a medical leader mean to you?

As an emergency physician, our role is about making decisions, assessing situations and strong judgement. Great physicians have clarity of thought, a refined ability to problem solve and can order chaotic situations. Another very important part of our job is providing a calming tone to stressful situations because no patient wants to see their doctor panicked. These are some of the defining qualities of leadership. As a physician, one also can’t work in silos or go at solving a patient issue alone because there are a number of people who play important roles in making sure patients are served to the highest standard. In business, these things may not be the case. You don’t often see the level of cohesion that exists in an emergency room inside a typical business. 

What can those in business learn from those who are leaders in your field?

In the medical field, there isn’t the same kind of corporate ladder that exists in the business world, and this impacts how people behave or work. The corporate ladder often doesn’t breed the same kind of collaboration that exists in the medical field because there are a different set of incentives at play. In medicine, you get paid only when you see patients, this makes our profession less competitive among practitioners.

What would be your one piece of advice to someone in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

No matter what you do, in order to have personal happiness, you need to love what you do and care about what you do. In this world there are Tiggers and Eeyores and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are being an Eeyore. You also need to believe in yourself. When things get hard, don’t give up. I didn’t get into med school the first time I applied but I knew that for me there was nothing else that I wanted to do. At some point, you need to set a goal for yourself, don’t look back and don’t take no for an answer. Life is not a sprint and the goal is to find something that will make you happy for your whole life. Those things take time. Don’t take the quick fix or path of least resistance if you really want something. This is what I tell all of my freshly starting residents: you have to fight for what you want and know what you are worth. If you believe in yourself, set high expectations and shoot for the moon, you will get to where you want to go as long as you can take others along for that ride and convince them that you are worthy of the things you aspire to achieve. That only happens though if you believe in yourself.   


Aubrey Chapnick