Dr. Adom Bondzi-Simpson hasn’t forgotten how the words sounded. “Where’s the Black doctor!?”
“I think it was the power and strength of how he spoke those words. It was the fact that when I stepped outside of the room, I could hear him shouting. I could hear his call and pain or frustration.”
After contemplating the experience he had with this patient during his first year of residency, Dr. Bondzi-Simpson would go on to write a piece about it which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in September, 2022.
“It was something that just always stuck with me,” says Dr. Bondzi-Simpson. He had been told by colleagues that the elderly man was being difficult, but when Dr. Bondzi-Simpson spoke with him he understood that the patient was afraid and unsure if he could trust the advice he was receiving.
Speaking with Dr. Bondzi-Simpson put the patient at ease and he eventually consented to surgery. But as Dr. Bondzi-Simpson left the OR, he heard the patient shout those same words that he would write about years later. Dr. Bondzi-Simpson returned to the patient and held his hand, not letting go until he was fully sedated for surgery.
This patient is not alone in his fears and frustrations. According to the 2016 census 4.7 per cent of Ontario’s population is Black, yet Black physicians make up only about 2.3 per cent of the physician population, as of 2015.
Dr. Bondzi-Simpson, 31, was born in Toronto to a South African-Canadian mother and a Ghanian father. He was raised in North York in a single-parent home after his father, an international student, returned to Ghana. But it was not a lonely upbringing. His house was busy with a younger brother, an auntie who lived with them for a period of time, and his grandmother, Caroline (Goodie) Tshabalala Mogadime, who he credits with helping raise him.
Dr. Bondzi-Simpson's family inspired him since he was a kid. His mother, Dr. Dolana Mogadime, returned to school for her master’s degree and then a PhD in education, eventually accepting a teaching position at Brock University in the Department of Educational Studies. The family bought a house and moved to Niagara for her to begin her new role when Dr. Bondzi-Simpson was in grade seven.
Dr. Bondzi-Simpson's two physician grandfathers have also served as inspiration. His maternal grandfather was part of one of the first classes of Black physicians in South Africa before moving his wife and four children to Canada in the 60s. His paternal grandfather was also a trailblazer, part of one of the first classes of Black physicians in Ghana.
“A lot of that molded me in terms of what I could do, what I thought was feasible and achievable,” says Dr. Bondzi-Simpson.
After completing his studies in Medical Sciences at Brock University, Dr. Bondzi-Simpson moved to Calgary for a Master’s degree in Immunology. He stayed to attend The University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine. Throughout his time in medical school, Dr. Bondzi-Simpson frequently wondered: where are the Black medical students?
“Going through med school in Calgary, I myself was one of two [Black medical students]. It was a class of about 160.”
Dr. Bondzi-Simpson allows that the school has improved its diversity in recent years by creating a Black application program, based on UofT’s Black students application program (BSAP). The minimum requirements for these application programs are unchanged, but there are key differences, like having Black community members and Black physicians, faculty members, and students take part in admissions reviews and interviews, who can perhaps look at admissions with a different lens.
“If you’re a student and you need to work to supplement your tuition, maybe in the summertime you’re working,” Dr. Bondzi-Simpson said. “But if you come from a more affluent family, you can spend the whole summer preparing for the MCAT, you can go abroad and volunteer abroad. And that’s valued in terms of your application. So what these applications are doing now is saying ‘hey, if you had to work, that shows leadership skills. If you were involved in community, that shows leadership as well.’ So there’s different ways of ranking it and how we evaluate students from several cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic, rural, urban.”
Dr. Bondzi-Simpson returned to Toronto for his medical residency at the end of medical school. He is now in his fourth year as a general surgery resident at UofT and is taking a pause from clinical training to do a research degree in clinical epidemiology at Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Dr. Bondzi-Simpson is also a member of the Black Physicians of Canada, formed in 2020.
In 2021, Dr. Bondzi-Simpson co-founded a mentorship program called UpSurge, alongside Dr. Sav Brar and fellow residents Amanpreet Kaur Brar and Betty Yibrehu. Upsurge is “aimed at stimulating interest, providing support, and guiding underrepresented students in pursuing surgical careers.”
“Particularly when we’re talking about Black representation in the medical field, I think that it’s important because there are certain challenges that are prevalent in the Black community,” Dr. Bondzi-Simpson said. “There are certain incidents of diseases that are higher: diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease are higher in Black populations. I think that Black patients like to seek out care providers that may have similar backgrounds to them. I think it’s maybe perhaps safer in terms of them opening up and providing culturally competent care,” says Adom.
“That’s really the biggest thing; having doctors, care providers, teachers, police officers, that are reflective of the community.”