Meet the Doc: Dr. Peter Brindley

This month Meet Dr. Peter Brindley, Critical Care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital and recent winner of the Intensive Care Society Senior Fellowship, awarded by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne of Edinburgh.

1. Where are you from?

I’m a proud Canadian. I’ve lived in this lovely country for almost three decades now. However, I was born and raised in the UK – I’m from Nottingham, England: home of Robin Hood.

2. When and how did you decide to become a doctor?

This may sound very dull, but it’s the only thing I really, truly wanted to do.

After I emigrated, I finished grade 12 here in Edmonton, then did my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology at the University of Alberta, along with a minor in Sociology – which at the time seemed crackers, and didn’t make sense to anyone. But there’s that old line about, “You live life forwards, but understand life backwards.”

Most of the academic work I’ve been involved in has actually been about human factors, and how teams work under stress. So, it makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Now I am an intensive care doctor, and have been working for the last 20 years as an attending physician. I’m also a professor with the University of Alberta in Critical Care medicine, Medical Ethics, and Anesthesiology.

3. What led you to specialize in Critical Care Medicine?

Well, again, you sort of live life forwards, but you understand it backward. I knew I either wanted to be an internal medicine specialist, an anesthesiologist, or an emergency doctor. And actually, if you combine those three specialties together, you end up with intensive care. Serendipity is a very important thing – we should always find time for the universe to tell us where we ought to be.

Critical care medicine is an incredibly important part of the hospital, but isn’t well understood. Anybody that needs life support machines, we’re involved. Severe traumas, we’re involved. Organ donation, we’re involved. Severe infections, we’re involved. Big heart attacks, we’re involved.

One of the things we have to appreciate is that for families and patients it’s the worst day of their life. Your ability to communicate – your ability to actually connect with somebody as a fellow human being who’s suffering – is a vitally important part of working in critical care.

I’m the son of a scientist, and an ex-palliative care counselor – so I feel like I take equal parts of Mum and Dad to work with me every day.

4. What do you do for fun?

Well, I’m pretty happy on any ski hill, both downhill and cross-country. I spend lots of time with my lovely family. My irascible, feral children, keep me on my toes. I love to ski, I love to kayak, I love to get out in nature. In fact, the more time outside, the better.

We spend our summers in various parts of Nova Scotia – we have a cottage there. That’s where the in-laws are from. Friends of mine in England have pointed out that Nova Scotia is closer to London than it is to Edmonton.

5. What is your favourite local hangout?

The river valley. The more time I can get into it, the better. I’m a big fan of all the resources that are around the hospital. I mean, Café Leva, Da Capo Caffe – all of those coffee and pizza places are a fantastic place to spend time.

As an Englishman, I would advertise the best English breakfast in the city is at Under the High Wheel. It’s a marvelous place. Edmonton’s got a fantastic restaurant scene. It’s understated. But it’s quiet and good and honest.

6. Tell us about the award you won.

So it was called the Intensive Care Society Senior Fellowship – which allowed me to travel all over the UK to lecture and exchange ideas. It was awarded to me by Princess Anne – who is the patron of the Intensive Care Society.

The purpose of the award is to allow experts to share their expertise and their insights, stimulate conversation and swap ideas. I’m excited about bringing a couple of the ideas back here, and in February we had the first of the other delegates come over here to share their experiences, which are similarly fascinating. And we’ll benefit from massively.

A huge amount of our job is swapping ideas, sharing ideas, being open to the best ideas, whether those ideas come from other doctors, nurses, therapists, paramedics, policemen, pilots… Anyone who’s been in a high-stress situation and has insight.

7. What does support from the University Hospital Foundation mean for Critical Care at the University of Alberta Hospital?

Support from the University Hospital Foundation means everything. It is the difference between having really good ideas and making really good ideas happen. It’s the difference between wanting to be world-class and becoming world-class. It’s the difference between wanting to offer world-class care – striving to do so – and being confident that we can do so. So melodrama aside, it means a great deal.

Dr. Peter Brindley is a Critical Care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital, and Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Anesthesiology, and Medical Ethics. The University Hospital Foundation has supported Dr. Brindley’s work through Critical Care and his involvement with the Brain Centre Campaign.

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