Why Dr. Andrew Boozary has been diagnosed as a superstar
|Toronto Star 09 Jul 2017 at 07:35|
“What are you doing for the weekend?” Dr. Andrew Boozary asked his inquisitor, whom he’d first met 90 minutes earlier on a recent Friday afternoon.
Told the reporter was moving furniture, Boozary’s reply was unexpected.
“Would you like a hand?” he said, with a sincerity that is apparently familiar to those who know him.
“That doesn’t surprise me in the least,” laughs Dr. Danielle Martin, one of the nation’s most prominent health-care activists and a key mentor to the young St. Michael’s Hospital resident.
“In fact, I’ve made him move heavy furniture in my house many times,” says Martin, who has semi-adopted Boozary into her extended family.
Boozary, who as a boy aspired to be a tennis star at a Pete Sampras level, has the slender waist and broad-backed frame of an accomplished player.
Yet he’s shouldered far weightier matter than tournament trophies and couches during a medical career that’s still in the training phase.
Since graduating from the University of Ottawa medical school in 2013, the 31-year-old Boozary has:
Boozary — who is doing a residency in family medicine at St. Mike’s Sherbourne St. clinic — also took a year off his Ottawa training to earn a Master of Public Policy degree, at the top of his class, from Princeton University.
“He’s a superstar, I really think he is,” says and a founder and past chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.
Dr. Danielle Martin, who has semi-adopted Boozary into her extended family, says he has “a rare combination” of strong humanitarian values, commitment to clinical excellence and expertise in both health-care policy and scientific research. (Rick Madonik)
Martin says Boozary “has a rare combination” of strong humanitarian values, commitment to clinical excellence and expertise in both health-care policy and scientific research.
“That kind of quadruple threat means that he’s destined to do great work over the course of his career.”
Not a bad prognosis for the son of an Iranian refugee, who grew up in Toronto’s gritty St. James Town neighbourhood and had no medical aspirations, or even an interest in science, until he was approaching his 20s.
“I was lucky to have great mentors,” Boozary says, naming Martin and Dr. Jeff Turnbull, chief of staff at The Ottawa Hospital, among others.
His foundational work with Open Pharma, for example, reveals leadership skills rarely seen in a freshman physician, says Turnbull.
“He is just exceptionally bright and thoughtful — and bright in a good way in terms of being able to see the important issues,” says Turnbull, who was also department chair of medicine at the University of Ottawa from 2001 to 2008.
“And he combines that brightness with very good values, so it’s a very powerful combination.”
The Open Pharma group is seeking federal legislation that would force pharmaceutical companies to disclose any money or gifts they give to doctors, research centres, hospitals, clinics or medical schools.
This “sunshine list” would include such things as speaking fees, trips, meals and drinks, research funding or concert and sporting event tickets paid for out of deep industry pockets.
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced last month that he will begin consultations this summer on whether pharmaceutical companies should reveal such payments, the Star’s David Bruser and Jesse McLean reported .
The announcement came after 10 major drug companies voluntarily released data showing they paid nearly $50 million to Canadian health-care professionals and organizations last year.
Boozary said at the time that the disclosure by just 10 companies did little to inform the public about the financial relationships their doctors may have with drug firms — and the potential conflicts that come with them.
Along with Martin, Open Pharma’s potent lineup includes Dr. Andreas Laupacis, executive director of St. Mike’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, and the University of Toronto’s Adalsteinn Brown, who serves as director of the school’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, and its Dalla Lana Chair in Public Health Policy.
Toronto doctors David Juurlink and Nav Persaud and University of Toronto professor Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi also sit on the advisory board.
Doctors Andrew Boozary, right, and Ahmed Bayoumi, a U of T professor who sits on Open Pharma s advisory board. (Andrew Francis Wallace)
Yet Boozary has certainly been a leader among these luminaries, Turnbull says. But true to the young physician’s modest inclinations, he says, Boozary would certainly downplay his role.
And he does.
“I wouldn’t say in any way I am leading them,” Boozary says, pushing his upturned palms out for emphasis.
“There has been terrific leadership on this issue for decades across the country.”
The issue, Boozary says, is one that obviously leaves Canada’s medical profession open to suspicions of industry chicanery – even if none exists.
And it’s also one that’s so obviously solvable that almost every other country with advanced medical systems has done so, Boozary says.
Even in the U.S., where the industry funds vast lobbying efforts, transparency was codified during negotiations for President Barack Obama’s now beleaguered Affordable Care Act, Boozary says.
“If they can do it down there … with a huge pharma lobby breathing down their necks, how are we not?” he says.
That the issue has not been properly addressed here may well be a symptom of the complacency that Canadians have come to feel about their health-care system — especially in light of a push in the U.S. Congress to cut coverage.
“There’s a huge amount of trust and belief in our health-care system,” he says.
“For a long time, maybe we’ve given the benefit of the doubt to industry players and maybe felt that as long as there were no scandals and issues that folks could see” that things were fine.
Yet Boozary stresses that his group is not set on exposing any scandals at all.
“I’m not trying to say that by doing this that we’re going to reveal this huge amount of nefarious activity and all this dirt under the rug,” he says.
“I just think that the issue is (that) people would like to see standards about how we’re doing things … to bolster the trust in the system.”
Still, Boozary has a veteran’s grasp of Open Pharma’s prospects, even in his youthful enthusiasm about its merits and growing support.
“You start to realize (that) in almost all of your (health system) research or public advocacy, things don’t really change all that fast or maybe ever,” he says.
“But you know, you just try to see what you can try to do.”
Boozary says his move into public advocacy had many sources, including Martin’s mentorship. (As a medical student, Boozary became a board member of her pro-medicare group.)
But none may be more important than his own childhood circumstances and the family history that arranged them.
The Sherbourne St. clinic where he now trains is a milling medical hive and many of his patients would come there from the highrise warrens that line nearby Rose Ave. and Charles St. It’s the part of town where he spent his first decade.
His father, Majeed, was an Iranian-trained doctor who fled his homeland after being imprisoned and abused during the revolution that brought the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power in the late 1970s.
Like so many professionals who land in this country as refugees, however, the elder Boozary found his credentials were not recognized here, and he was forced to take jobs painting houses and driving cabs for more than a decade.
But the family’s working class status shifted to comfortable middle class – almost instantaneously — when the elder Boozary was finally able to upgrade his medical credentials during at stint at Toronto’s old Wellesley Hospital when his son was 9 or 10. Andrew has a younger sister, Tanya.
Rather than bemoan the relative privation the country’s strict licensing requirements first forced on his family, Boozary was grateful for the opportunities that Canada eventually offered them.
“Social justice was a very early concept for us … from my parents’ background — from my family’s issues of what they’ve had to do to prevail and be here and the opportunities that Canada gave us,” he says.
“My family would not have had the privileges and opportunities that they’ve had if (they) had not been fortunate enough to raise a family in Canada.”
That good fortune — Boozary would decide — obliged him to give back in the social justice currency that had fostered it.
“There was always a lot of appreciation of that from the beginning and an understanding that (it) can come with social responsibility,” he says.
As much as his father’s career and financial resuscitation sparked a sense of social justice for Boozary, it was his mother’s thinking that nurtured it most.
Sholeh Boozary trained in human rights law in her native Iran, before immigrating to Canada during the revolution.
She met and married Majeed in Montreal, but she did not pursue a law career here — devoting her attentions to raising Andrew and Tanya. (Tanya is also pursuing a medical degree in Ottawa.)
Andrew Boozary with his sister, Tanya, as children in Toronto.
“But she (his mother) really pushed me on these things, thinking about social justice and human rights,” her son says.
“She also wanted (us) to follow whatever dreams we had of trying to make the world a better place … to do what we can to improve the social condition.”
(And his mother still plays a big part in his daily life. Told recently his cellphone voicemail was full, Boozary said that would almost certainly be his mother’s doing.)
Whatever the sources of his social advocacy ambitions, however, Boozary never intended to pursue them in the medical field.
Despite its being his father’s career — he still has a family practice in Richmond Hill — Boozary had no interest in medicine when he entered the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) as an undergraduate in economics with law school aspirations.
“I was into economics and law because I felt you could make the case for human rights having the science of economics and making the case from the legal perspective,” he says.
“But I dropped out after first semester and a lot of friends probably thought I’d went off and smoked a lot,” he says.
What he did instead was go back and upgrade the science courses he’d ignored or fluffed off through high school. Boozary says he had decided that he could accomplish more within Canada’s universal health-care system to better the lives of the less fortunate.
When he returned to Western the following year, he enrolled as a medical science student.
Boozary, who is single, and his colleagues at the Sherbourne St. facility work “brutal” hours, but he still takes time for his beloved sports.
Aside from playing tennis, Boozary is also an avid football and baseball fan, though he picked up an unfortunate affinity for Boston franchises during his time at Harvard, where he went after med school.
He also has an ability to memorize sports statistics — and can rhyme off every baseball player who’s combined 40 homers with 40 steals in a single season, for example.
He denies claims of some friends, however, that he has a photographic memory.
“I think I’ve been fortunate to be able to remember certain details about certain things,” he says.
“But I’ll say (the people who attribute the memory wizardry) are wrong. I struggled (through school) in certain subjects like everybody else.”
Still, the range of Boozary’s interests, work and capabilities often leaves Turnbull agog.
“By now you’re sort of saying ‘well, what doesn’t this guy do well?’ ” he says.
“Which is kind of the thing I ask … it makes the rest of us mere mortals look like slouches.”
Though he longs to travel, and will doubtless attract Ivy League employment offers, Boozary is adamant that he’ll pursue a family medicine career in Canada — with an emphasis on pain management, addiction and refugee health issues.
“The only place I’ve ever wanted to practise medicine and do my training was in Canada where we don’t have to look at these issues of forms and bills and clerks about whether a patient is a Medicaid patient or a Medicare patient or a private insurance patient,” he says.
“And there’s just a social responsibility I feel being here. That’s my real dream, to have that happen.”