At law school Thom Ringer spent much of his time providing pro bono legal services to immigrants, low-wage workers, and survivors of domestic violence.
Once called to the bar, the young lawyer found he preferred working in an interdisciplinary environment and assisting people with problems impacting their daily lives in a tangible and immediate way.
Then he volunteered at a geriatric psychiatry clinic in Toronto where he met many patients newly diagnosed with dementia. He had found his calling in the care of the elderly.
Now, on May 25, he is graduating as a medical doctor from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, and he is inspired to change the way older adults are cared for, and to advocate for a place for geriatric care in every medical discipline.
He is one of 187 doctors, and 336 other graduates from McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences who will cross the stage at the 2:30 p.m. convocation at Hamilton Place. The other graduates include those from the Bachelor of Health Sciences, midwifery and several graduate programs.
Early on in medical school, Ringer recalls that the assistant dean of the medical program, Dr. Rob Whyte, urged the class to 'think not just about what interests you, but who needs you'.
"From there, I quickly realized that frail elderly people are among the neediest patients in the healthcare system," he says. "They face many challenges, so I felt there was a real need there."
The switch from law to medicine has been rewarding for Ringer, who is also now an advisor to the board of the National Institute on Ageing based at Ryerson University.
As a medical student in Hamilton, Ringer became very involved as a research assistant at McMaster's Geriatric Education and Research in Aging Sciences Centre (GERAS) based at Hamilton Health Sciences' St. Peter's Hospital. His work focused on the relationship between physical frailty in older adults and the burden experienced by their family caregivers. Recently, he has developed an interest in the rapidly growing field of geriatric emergency medicine.
"It was a pleasure for the GERAS team, our clinical team and the patients to work with Thom these past three years." says Dr. Alexandra Papaioannou, executive director of the GERAS centre and a McMaster professor of medicine. "I know Thom will end up as a leader in health-care policy for older adults."
His commitment to advancing the field of geriatrics through leadership and research earned him the 2017 Edward Henderson Student Award from the American Geriatrics Society.
In July, Ringer expects to begin his residency in family medicine at the University of Toronto.
"I want to emphasize that there is a need for care of the elderly in every specialty, not just geriatrics," he says.
"I think we cannot possibly train enough geriatricians to deal with every health implication of an aging population. We need everyone to educate themselves on care of the elderly and become comfortable with finding interconnections between disciplines in different health-care settings."