Faces of U of T Medicine: Dr. Neil Isaac
Early in his education, Dr. Neil Isaac developed a passion for science. In addition to being an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Medical Imaging, Isaac is also a general radiologist at North York General Hospital and is working to increase the representation of Black students in medicine through his role with the Black Physicians' Association of Ontario (BPAO). As U of T Medicine celebrates Black History Month, writer Erin Howe asked Isaac about his work and advice for Black students who want to follow in his footsteps.
What sparked your interest in medicine?
I’ve always been always interested in the sciences. I found them interesting and liked that if you had the answer, you were correct — there are no shades of grey, no interpretative errors. I also liked the impartiality of grading those courses! I trusted that if I knew my stuff, there would be no bias in marking, no weighing past tests into my mark. The answer was the answer.
The quest for the answer is what led me into what I would consider the ultimate career for people who like to answer questions (other than scientist) — for me that was medicine.
Can you tell me more about your work as a radiologist?
I’m fellowship-trained in cardiovascular imaging, but I like keeping on top of what’s new and interesting in radiology and don’t like to pigeonhole myself into any one area. As such, I can enjoy freedom of movement should I wish to leave my department (I won’t!) as well as some job security, because I’m not stuck in one particular area, where a paradigm shift might render that area useless — like pneumoencephalograms, a type of head x-ray that’s been replaced by MRI and CT scans.
What do you find most exciting about this area of medicine?
The constant evolution and innovation. Every year, there is a humongous conference in Chicago where radiologists, physicists, technologists, nurses and our industry partners get together to showcase the latest and greatest in radiology and to exchange ideas. It’s a very exciting conference that I try to get to as often as possible.
You’re also on the board of the BPAO — what do you enjoy most about being involved in this organization?
I look at it as an opportunity to give back. I have been quite fortunate to make it where I am today. But I must recognize those that have come before me. I can count on two hands the number of Black radiologists in Ontario. Black people, and several other racialized minorities, are underrepresented in medicine. For some people, being seen by someone with a shared experience — like their country of origin, religion or race— really helps in their therapeutic bond, or willingness to seek out help.
What advice would you offer to Black students interested in pursuing a career in medicine?
Work hard. Always push for your goal. It will be tough, and there will be many people discouraging you. But there will also be others encouraging you. Look to them. Block out the negative. Surround yourself with positive people and like-minded individuals who are also striving to fulfill their dreams.
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