For the past 28 years Dr. Abdul Aleem has been one of Cranbrook’s main general surgeons, and at the end of March, he retired from the profession.
At his home in Cranbrook, Dr. Aleem said he has relished his time as a surgeon here.
“It’s been really interesting and rewarding to work here,” Dr Aleem said. “It’s all been made possible by the respect and understanding that I got from not only my physician colleagues, but also from the nursing staff and also from the community.”
He said that support also came from within the community itself, and mentioned in particular organizations like the Hospital Auxiliary and the East Kootenay Foundation for Health, which has brought in equipment to help provide up-to-date general surgery services.
Dr. Aleem said people in Cranbrook mostly know about his retirement, but out in the more rural communities, they may not have heard.
“I served people in the whole of East Kootenay. From Golden, to Creston, to along the east shore of East Kootenay up to Riondel, the Elk Valley — a lot of communities,” he said.
“It’s been really very busy. Sometimes I would be the only surgeon here. Most of the time we were two — presently we are four. We really had to work at it to get things where we are now.”
He said working as a surgeon has been both challenging and satisfying.
The biggest challenge for him personally was being the only surgeon here at times and being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“Anytime, I could be called,” Dr. Aleem said. “I could be working for 24 hours, I could be working all day — and it happened.
“Even when there were just two of us, it was difficult being on call every other day. They called not only from the emergency department, but also from the surgical floor — a patient could be having surgery, and things go complicated. You will be called in the middle of the night.”
He said there were times when he had to do one surgery after the next.
“Before we regionalized the hospital, before Interior Health Authority came in, there were surgeons in Creston, Kimberley, Golden and Invermere and Fernie. When they were away we had to cover for them all, so we could be getting people coming from there as well.
“Because of the size of the hospital and the facilities, we were able to provide a higher level of care than they were able to provide there, so the patients were being transferred here and then we would take care of them. That was busy.
“Because we were the regional hospital we had to be open all the time. That was the challenging part.”
Aleem said things started changing about 10 years ago. There are now four general surgeons in in Cranbrook, which he said makes it relatively more comfortable for them.
“We’ve been very fortunate here in the East Kootenay that we have access to all the services in Calgary, if there are patients that need further care than we could provide here,” he said.
“They’ve always been really helpful in Calgary, and lately Kelowna has been also quite helpful.
“Kelowna is the Tertiary centre (specialists) which in the future will be very helpful to the community. “
On the whole, Dr. Aleem said it’s been a privilege to work here in the community.
He said he and his family were welcomed into the community when they moved here from Saskatoon in 1986. The children grew up here, went to school here and now have their own professions.
“The community has been good to our whole family.” he said. “It’s been wonderful living here.”
Aleem has been involved with various committees at various levels over the years. He was a 13-year member of the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues, which worked on programs which have helped to recruit and retain physicians, both general practicing and specialists in rural communities.
He is also a member of the faculty in the Department of General Surgery at the University of British Columbia. Residents in the program have been coming to Cranbrook for their rural rotation under his supervision since 1996.
Dr. Aleem has also won a number of awards including the award for Excellence from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. and the Teacher of the Year UBC General Surgery Department.
“I’d like to thank all the people in the community, and the medical staff and the nursing staff.”