Fahima Dossa

July 2021

  • PGY-3
  • Residency Program: University of Toronto
  • Supervisors: Dr. Nancy Baxter,

What research are you currently working on?
My research interests are quite broad but are encapsulated under the umbrellas of health services research and clinical epidemiology. For the last two years, I’ve been focusing on factors affecting surgical workforce remuneration and utilization. This has included work evaluating the gender pay gap in surgery, as well as an analysis of the distribution of referrals to surgeons in Ontario.

I also have a deep interest in statistical methods and study design and have projects aimed at re-evaluating research methodology and study interpretation.

When did you become interested in research?
I dabbled in research prior to residency; however, my passion for research really emerged when I entered into the Surgeon Scientist Training Program (SSTP), a unique program at the University of Toronto that affords surgical residents with dedicated time away from clinical work to pursue a research degree. Following my second year of residency, I stepped out of clinical work to begin a Master’s degree (and eventual PhD) in Clinical Epidemiology. The independence I was afforded with during this time changed the way I thought about research. I was finally able to develop my own research ideas and design my own projects – I found this process incredibly exciting. Having had some clinical experience also helped me see the relevance of the work I was doing, which made it immensely more gratifying.

How has research influenced your career goals?
My experience during my PhD has led me to aspire to become a surgeon scientist. Ultimately, I hope to run a lab where I can supervise students and residents as they venture down their own journeys of research discovery. I hope to be able to continue to use research as a means to bring about quality improvement and policy changes that allow us to provide better care for our patients and more equitable treatment of our workforce.

What is one piece of advice you would share to other residents interested in research?
Build a team of peers and mentors who are giving of their time and expertise. In the same way residents value exceptional clinical teachers and mentors, experienced content and methodologic experts can contribute immensely to your development as a researcher. In my own experiences, some of the most valuable “experts” have been fellow residents, so look close to home as you build your research team. Collaboration is key.

What are the challenges of conducting research during residency?
I think you will be hard pressed to find someone who won’t say that making time is the greatest challenge of conducting research during residency. To this, I would add pressure. With the ongoing credential creep, there is a sense of pressure to produce research, and this pressure can obscure the purpose of the work. However, seeing research through and remaining interested is challenging if your motivations are not intrinsic. I would encourage those starting out in research to think carefully about their “why?”; figure out what interests and excites you – those are the things that will keep you going after the long clinical days and innumerable unavoidable manuscript rejections.

Any advice on approaching a potential research mentor?
Know yourself, how you learn/perform best, and what skills you want to acquire and then set out to find someone who can support you best. Most faculty engaged in research are excited at the prospect of having residents doing research with them so don’t be afraid to cold call/email someone you think would be a good fit. When you find the right match, the first meeting can often be just as much about the faculty member convincing you to work with them as it is about you convincing them to take you on!