Canadian Medical Association

Dr. Ali Damji

Medical resident goes to bat for colleagues and a better health system

It was his family’s own history that shaped Dr. Ali Damji’s commitment to speak out for others. Fleeing Uganda under dictator Idi Amin, his grandmother and family came to Canada as refugees, with little money and English. His family was vulnerable, yet neighbours and their community went to bat for them and helped them succeed.

“Growing up hearing these stories made me realize the power of advocacy and looking out for those around you, and I’ve always tried to champion that.”

As chair of the Ontario Medical Students Association, Dr. Damji was a champion for his peers. In 2015, he was instrumental in raising awareness of provincial cuts to 50 residency positions, issuing a joint statement to alert members and offer support. His statement was shared thousands of times on social media, and Dr. Damji also appeared on the news to outline the impact of the cuts on Canadian medical graduates, many of whom were already struggling to match. In the end, his efforts helped save 25 residency spots. Today, as a board member at Resident Doctors of Canada, Dr. Damji advocates on many issues that affect physicians, including burnout, national licensure and transition to practice.

He has also become an outspoken voice on medical professionalism. During the debate over a controversial physician services agreement in Ontario, Dr. Damji took an unpopular stand and became the subject of personal and professional attacks. Rather than sweep it under the rug, he decided to speak out.

“I was able to turn that situation, which was really unpleasant, into an opportunity for advocacy, and I think it has started to spark conversation. For me as a leader, that was one of the most meaningful things I was able to do.”

Dr. Damji’s leadership extends to his clinical practice. Last year, his colleagues at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga unanimously voted him chief resident of their family health team.

His current passion: how to blend clinical and advocacy work to improve the quality of the health care system. While completing his medical degree, Dr. Damji also completed a Masters in System Leadership and Innovation at the University of Toronto. He is using his new skills to improve opioid prescribing practices at Credit Valley and helping design a new patient-centred medical home in Mississauga.

“I don’t see medicine as being just my clinical practice; I see medicine as also advocating for health equity and making sure people have an equal opportunity to live their healthiest possible lives.”

Dr. Ali Damji is receiving the CMA Award for Young Leaders (Resident) for demonstrating exemplary dedication, commitment and leadership in one of the following areas: political, clinical, educational, or research and community service.