A Young Leader Makes Diversity a Top Priority

Adam Kassam MED ’14, MPH. Photo by Nadia Molinari

Toronto-based physiatrist Adam Kassam MED ’14, MPH, doesn’t shy away from going first. In June 2021, at the age of 34, he will become the youngest person and the first physiatrist to serve as president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), a 140-year-old organization that represents 35,000 physicians across the province—from urban Toronto to the suburbs to the far north rural communities on Hudson Bay.  

“It’s a seminal moment for the OMA, looking at the physician role in COVID and moving past COVID,” says Kassam, whose clinical work focuses on musculoskeletal and neurological rehabilitation. 

The OMA was also the site of Kassam’s first “first”: In 2017, he became the first resident to lead a section of the association. “When I came back to Ontario after Geisel, I saw that physiatry had limited visibility within the profession and tended not to have strong representation,” he explains. Wanting to change the fortunes of the section, he stepped up to advocate for physiatrists. 

At the same time, Kassam, who also holds a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University, says, “I began finding my voice with equity and diversity,” penning op-eds for the likes of CNN, The Atlantic, CBC, and the Globe and Mail. And it just so happened that his activism and leading the physiatry section coincided with a period of soul searching for the OMA. “The OMA does advocacy and policy work. Members were feeling like the organization wasn’t representative of the profession.” 

Colleagues encouraged him to get more involved and run for president, a notion Kassam initially resisted. “I thought I was too green, too new, and too young,” he says. What finally won him over to the idea was when one of his mentors pointed out that the president of the OMA “requires someone who is a strong communicator and has a savviness with the media.” Kassam decided to throw his hat into the ring—and won.  

Kassam finds inspiration for his upcoming role in his experience at the Geisel School of Medicine. “What drew me to Dartmouth was the strength and quality of people you get to work with and learn from. It’s a place of decency and care that emphasizes community.”  

When he takes over as president of the OMA, Kassam plans to draw on that decency and care while putting a spotlight on inclusion and diversity. “Canada likes to wave the flag of multiculturalism and does a good job of paying lip service, but for the longest time, we haven’t had diversity at the highest level of healthcare leadership. Not in the government, the C-suite of hospitals, nor medical schools. Take Toronto, a city of 7 million people. There are communities of color, racialized communities. But no diversity data is being collected. We only care about what we measure.” 

Kassam is committed to changing that. “We know that you have better health outcomes when you have diverse physicians treating diverse populations. Our communities in Canada have to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Leading the OMA presents an opportunity to change the conversation.” 

Written by Maura King Scully