2015 Torontonians of the Year: Cancer surgeon Dr. Fahima Osman

Dr. Fahima Osman, surgeon

The year 2015 was a banner one for Dr. Fahima Osman. Certainly her specialized breast cancer surgery at North York General is notable (as is the grant she received in January to research oncoplastic surgery in Ontario). But as a Somali-Canadian, her work has been notable since she set her sights on a career in medicine at age eight.

“I was a peculiar child who had one dream of becoming a doctor and everything revolved around it,” says Osman. And become a doctor she did, despite the challenge of being the eldest of nine children to refugee parents who had never been to school. When the Globe and Mail contacted her in 2003, Osman realized she was going to be the first Canadian-trained medical doctor in Canada’s Somali community. And so, for the first three years of her practice, Osman made annual trips to Somaliland to volunteer as a surgeon.

“That’s why I ended up doing a master’s in public health,” explains Osman. “I discovered that I want to train Somali students to help themselves. We started a scholarship for Somali medical students to allow them to do surgical training in neighbouring countries.”

Osman was awarded a full scholarship to study global health and how to improve access to healthcare in low and middle income countries at Johns Hopkins.

In Toronto, Osman has become an expert in oncoplastic breast surgery, which uses plastic surgery techniques to remove tumors and produce positive cosmetic outcomes. This surgery is uncommon in Canada, due to a lack of training. Osman performs the surgery without any added compensation.

“I hope that highlighting how women with breast cancer are happier with these outcomes sets an example for other hospitals.”

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