One-on-One with Gurdeep Parhar


As Executive Associate Dean, Clinical Partnerships and Professionalism, Dr. Gurdeep Parhar is helping to advance the priorities set out in the Faculty of Medicine's new strategic plan, Building the Future, by offering strategic leadership and coordination between the Faculty and its partners, including the health authorities, government, and other academic institutions. Dr. Parhar also provides professionalism leadership within the Faculty, working closely with all training sites to support our undergraduate students, post-graduate trainees, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members based across the province.

What quality do you most admire in a leader? 

GP: Intentional and respectful thoughtfulness. To be a great leader, you need to be able to make informed decisions by tapping into the knowledge, opinions, and perspectives of people around you. The leaders who are disadvantaged are the ones that don’t get the information they need — particularly the perspectives and views that are different from their own.

What makes you laugh?

GP: After years of working as a family physician and teaching students in the Faculty of Medicine, I have come to realize just how important humour is. My work can be pretty intense and some of the conversations can be pretty difficult, so laughter becomes a way to connect. I don’t think there’s anything that bonds two people more than being able to laugh together, especially about the unspoken. When it comes to what makes me laugh, it’s often the simple, unexpected things in life. If someone always acts and behaves in a certain way, and then you see them doing something outside of character, it’s that spontaneity — that surprise element — that makes me laugh. 

As Executive Associate Dean, Clinical Partnerships and Professionalism, what is your vision for the Faculty of Medicine?

GP:  The Faculty of Medicine has incredible partnerships here in B.C, but also across Canada and around the world. I think our commitment to partnerships really speaks to the fact that we believe no one can do it alone. 

Moving forward, I think we need to aspire to be true partners with our community. Right now we interface with government and health authorities across the province, as well as industry partners, but we must remember that we are here to improve the health of British Columbians. And that means there’s opportunity to be listening more closely to patients, to our community and Indigenous groups, and to different faith and ethnic groups. We need to be looking to them for advice and guidance in shaping and informing our research, as well as the delivery of our education programs so that we can help address health care challenges and inequities.

We also need to continue training health care providers to be truly professional. I often remind our health care students that they were not born with the privilege to treat others. It is a privilege that we had to earn collectively, as health care providers, and it’s a privilege that is so easy to lose. One inappropriate comment, one inappropriate behavior, and the privilege is gone. So as we’re training the next generation of health care professionals, we need to ensure that, as a Faculty, we are instilling the importance of communicating respectfully, giving people time, and understanding not just the biological, but also the psycho-social being of our patients.

For you, what makes UBC different?

GP:  Our diversity. People from all over the world have come and settled here, which means that our student body and faculty are truly diverse, and so is our patient community. As the only faculty of medicine in the province, we’re in a unique position to connect communities and research and health care centres across B.C. 

What is your favourite song?

GP: “The Summer of ’69” by Brian Adams. I am a Brian Adams fanatic — have been ever since I was a kid, growing up north. Every time I make a new playlist, I’ll include that song about four times. Something about that song connects with me. I was born in ’69 and I played the drums throughout elementary and high school — I think some part of me thought that I would become the next Phil Collins. But I never had the voice. 

I actually ran into Brian Adams in a restaurant in downtown Vancouver after years of going to his concerts. I told him that I was a huge fan, and had grown up with his music. He shook my hand — and I haven’t washed it since. No, just kidding. But it was a bucket list kind of thing, and he was such a nice guy that it really completed the picture. 

How do you like to recharge?

GP: I like to immerse myself in a really good fiction novel, particularly some kind of spy, legal thriller, or a court room drama because it’s a world so disconnected from my own.  

What would you like to be remembered for?

GP: A few years ago I was honoured with an award for my teaching. The citation on the award read: ‘There are 10,000 health professionals in Canada that will hopefully remember some part of what Dr. Parhar taught them about professionalism.’ After reading that, I didn’t need the certificate. I thought, ‘that’s about the best that I could hope for’ — that my former students, now serving as health care professionals across Canada, remember what I taught them about the importance of professionalism. For me, being remembered for the impact my teaching has had would be enough.

First job

GP: I grew up in Kitimat, B.C., and my first job was working as an inspector at an aluminum smelter. I would work 12-hour shifts, walking up and down the plant with a clipboard in hand inspecting the surface of big aluminum ingots, or logs. It was a unique job and was my first exposure to shift work.  
I didn’t realize it then, but working at the smelter had such an impact on my career choice. As a family physician, my niche is occupational medicine, or worker’s health. Working those 12-hour shifts and seeing what people were exposed to in these very industrial environments had a real influence my career. 

Today, when people find out I use to work at the smelter, they often ask me what I know about aluminum. I know almost nothing now — I can tell you when I see aluminum foil, but that’s about it. 

Greatest mentor

GP: My grandpa – my dad’s dad. He wasn’t just my greatest mentor, he also inspired me the most. He was a nice fellow — actually, no he wasn’t. He wasn’t a nice fellow. He was a tough fellow. He lost his leg around the time of WWII, while building roads up in northern India. Despite having three or four prostheses (he had an above-knee amputation), he would never wear them. He would always walk with his crutches because he figured he could walk faster with them. And he didn’t let anything stop him. When we lived up north, whether it was icy or snowy, he would be ripping across town with his crutches. 

I remember as a kid being very self-conscious of my grandpa — he had a turban, a beard, one leg and these crutches. People would stare. But I think back on those times now — and I think of all the things he did — he would stay busy, digging up the garden, and when we moved down to Vancouver he would go from one end of the city to the other. He had such determination. When I need inner strength, I think of him.

Best piece of advice

GP: Find something that you are truly passionate about. And that’s not easy. Sometimes, it takes a long time. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime. But once you find it, everything will fall into place — you’ll excel at it. 

Currently reading

GP: I’m reading a book on how to program web pages — it’s just something I always wanted to learn how to do myself. 

Favourite restaurant

GP: Memphis Blues.

Last vacation destination

GP: Delhi for a wedding followed by Dubai, where we managed to avoid the scorpions and rattlesnakes in the sand dunes. It was a surreal experience.