Dr. Simran Ohson

It’s important to know that a lot of people can be going through a lot of different things that you might not realize. Just find ways to keep supporting each other in this difficult period

Dr. Ohson in a snowy forest

It runs in the family

Raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Dr. Simran Ohson regularly accompanied his father, Dr. Ravinder Ohson, a family physician, on home visits with elderly patients. “My father’s relationship with his patients was amazing,” said Dr. Ohson. “My brother and I got to know them quite well.”

Over the years, young Ohson went on to develop his own relationships with the patients in his father’s care. They would often give him Christmas cards and goodies, such as Easter chocolates. It was those experiences that gave him a first-hand understanding of how patient-doctor relationships could develop into broader social connections.

These formative experiences not only inspired Dr. Ohson to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a family physician, but they also gave him confidence to build strong long-term relationships with his patients.

However, his route to practising family medicine was not straightforward. Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, he initially planned on becoming a physiotherapist but discovered during his studies that it was not the right fit for him. Instead, he earned a master’s degree in kinesiology, sparking an interest in muscular medicine and rehabilitation, which led him to consider a career in orthopedic surgery.

But once he enrolled in medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, his path became clear as he conducted pediatric and obstetrics rotations. Each patient interaction opened his eyes to pursuing a career in family medicine.

Inspired by his father, he has made long-term relationships with patients a priority since becoming a family physician. For him, the reward is achieving better health outcomes among the patients in his care at the Pictou West Health Centre, which is where he has practised since 2018.

“It’s great to see patients coming off of a particular pain medication or blood pressure pills because they became more active and these results are made possible by building those relationships over time,” he said.

The relationships he has built have proved to be invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Ohson knew his isolated patients living in rural communities would be facing difficulties. At the onset of the pandemic, he took note of the patients who were alone or separated, so he could check in on them from time to time.

He was surprised to find some of his patients were faring better than expected. “But there were a lot of patients that I really didn’t expect to be struggling as much as they have been,” he said.

Some patients had never discussed their mental health issues with Dr. Ohson prior to COVID-19. “I came to understand how many things people rely on in the community,” he said. With community-based activities like walking groups and hockey on hold, he realized that many people were feeling lonely and afraid.

He has been encouraging patients who are struggling with isolation to practice mindfulness. When they are feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty or fear about the days and weeks ahead, Dr. Ohson asks them to focus on each day as it comes. He urges people to draw on their connections to family members and close friends – even a phone call can brighten someone’s day.

Virtual care has been one of the ways Dr. Ohson and his patients have stayed connected during the pandemic. It’s allowed him to see more patients and have regular follow ups. “It’s enabled my colleagues and I to stay in touch better with patients who live further away or who have mobility or transport issues,” he said.

“We’re having even better contact with patients because previously it would have been such an ordeal for them to pay for a taxi to come to the centre.”

In serving his patients, Dr. Ohson has built a strong network with other health-care providers.

Pictou West Health Centre is a community hub offering a variety of services. Home to four family doctors, three nurse practitioners, and two family-practice nurses, the centre has a diabetes education staff comprised of a dietician and nurse. The centre also hosts a seniors’ clinic staffed with a geriatrician and an occupational therapist.

He says he’s lucky to have the One Door Chronic Disease Management (ODCDM) clinic based at the centre, which serves all of Pictou County and works collaboratively with family doctors and other health-care professionals in the community. This clinic works with patients who have diabetes and cardiovascular issues. “Working in collaboration with a diabetes-certified nurse and a dietitian allows us to not only tackle medical issues but also build relationships with other health-care colleagues,” said Dr. Ohson.

Perhaps the most important relationship Dr. Ohson has forged is with his wife, Dr. Naomi O’Sullivan, a pediatrician who just completed her residency and is in the process of starting work in Nova Scotia. They met when studying in Ireland. She’s been Dr. Ohson’s biggest supporter. The couple enjoy all the region has to offer and enjoy spending time outside, taking part in outdoor activities like snowboarding, snowshoeing, soccer and hiking.

Dr. Ohson encourages Nova Scotians to stay strong and support one another, even while staying apart. “It’s important to know that a lot of people can be going through a lot of different things that you might not realize. Just find ways to keep supporting each other in this difficult period.”