McMaster University alumnus Naheed Dosani has been honoured for his work in providing mobile end-of-life care for the homeless and those with unreliable housing.
This week, Dosani, who is also an assistant clinical professor with the Department of Family Medicine, was presented with a Meritorious Service Cross in the civil division from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
Dosani said it was during his studies at Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster when he gained a deeper understanding of health inequity in his own country and abroad by working in downtown Toronto, and travelling to Cambodia and Kenya to provide medical aid.
"I started to realize in medical school that we're not just health-care providers, we can be social change agents," said Dosani, who graduated with a medical degree from McMaster in 2011.
While training as a family doctor in a downtown Toronto homeless shelter, Dosani met a man who would unknowingly shape his career path.
Terry was in his early thirties and suffering from head and neck cancer, while also dealing with mental health issues, addiction and homelessness. After working to gain his trust, Dosani developed a pain management plan that Terry was willing to accept - care that offered hope for comfort in the final stages of his disease.
Dosani returned to the shelter one morning to learn that Terry was found dead on the street having overdosed the night before. Terry's death had a profound impact on Dosani. He was disappointed in medicine, health care and society.
"Life was waiting to give me that moment with Terry to actually realize what a life was worth," he said.
Disillusionment turned to empowerment, and the experience with Terry motivated Dosani to find ways to bridge the gap from the policy level to the individual level.
During his final year of residency in palliative care at the University of Toronto, Dosani approached the Inner City Health Associates with the idea of expanding its primary and mental health programs for the homeless and those with unreliable housing to include palliative care needs for those with life-limiting illness.
After a year of planning, Dosani founded and launched Palliative Education And Care for the Homeless (PEACH) on the day he graduated in July 2014.
PEACH delivers community-based hospice palliative care to vulnerable individuals regardless of their housing status or factors such as poverty or substance use. The program brings housing, mental health and healthcare providers together to plan an individual's care while recognizing, but not judging, that person's circumstances.
The PEACH team includes Dosani, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and recently, a second palliative care physician. Since 2014, the team has treated and managed care for more than 200 individuals in downtown Toronto.
The PEACH team has inspired other cities including Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and Seattle to develop similar programs.
"From the most superficial level, to the deepest roots in society, we can have impact through the lens of health and wellbeing," said Dosani. "To what degree we make that change is up to each one of us."