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Dr. Fariba Faghani
Dr. Fariba Faghani’s Personal Learning Program (PLP) at UHN was based at Toronto Rehab’s Specialized Dementia Unit, where she gained the expertise needed to help her establish the first geriatric psychiatry unit in Iran. (Photo: UHN)

Deciding to specialize in geriatric psychiatry after completing medical school in 2011 hit home for Dr. Fariba Faghani, and quite literally. The Iranian psychiatrist's grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the same year.  

Having few geriatric psychiatrists to learn from in Iran, Dr. Faghani searched abroad for opportunities, ultimately landing her at Toronto Rehab Institute's Specialized Dementia Unit (SDU) last September. 

It would be here Dr. Faghani gained the expertise and experience needed to achieve her ultimate goal: to set up the first geriatric psychiatry unit at Isfahan University of Medical Science in Iran.

UHN's International Centre for Education worked with Dr. Faghani to create a Personalized Learning Program (PLP) tailored to help her achieve her goals in geriatric psychiatry.

The impacts of her grandmother's illness on Dr. Faghani's family were obvious, and equally apparent was the difficulty in having a patient with dementia in Iran.

Knowing people in her country need doctors who are experts in geriatric psychiatry drove her passion, especially because nearly 10 per cent of Iran's population is over 60 years old, and geriatric mental health is a priority of Iran's Ministry of Health.

Though her PLP was based at the SDU, she experienced working in different environments which helped her better understand how to treat medically complex patients in a psychiatric setting, as often she would see patients who were also being treated for other medical issues.

For example, visiting nursing homes with TRI's Geriatric Outreach Team inspired Dr. Faghani to improve nursing home conditions and organizations in Iran. She also hopes to use telepsychiatry in Iran as a tool to care for those in more isolated and underserved areas.

"While I gained experience in the scientific part of the program, I also got to learn a great deal about patient respect and dignity," she says. "I noticed in Canadian health systems, physicians' bedside manners are just as important as knowledge especially when dealing with older patients."

Dr. Faghani with UHN team
Dr. Faghani, holding the certificate of completion for her Personalized Learning Plan, with (L to R) Dr. Susan Abbey, UHN Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Dr. Ron Keren, Medical Director of Toronto Rehab's Geriatric Rehab Program and Fariba’s PLP host, and Dalia Al-Mouaswas, Manager, UHN International Centre for Education. (Photo: UHN)

The most important value she learned to implement in the model of care she establishes when she gets back home is nurturing close collaboration between different departments to foster a multidisciplinary team and developing transparent care plans for patients.

Driven by her experience in the SDU, Dr. Faghani is confident the use of care plans both by doctors and the patient's family is a must-have for the clinic back home. 

At the SDU, care plans are developed for each patient depending on their needs, and regardless of their specialty the team has one common goal: to improve the quality of life for that patient and their family. The transparent process includes the patient and their family each step of the way so when the patient is preparing for discharge, they can do so effectively without weakening their care. 

To achieve that common goal and a successful unit, Dr. Faghani says your entire team must feel they are valuable. She says working in the SDU with Dr. Ron Keren, her PLP host and Medical Director of TRI's Geriatric Rehab Program, she saw that no matter what academic level someone is in, everyone is valuable.

Dr. Keren describes Dr. Faghani as "eager" and "intelligent" with a "great set of skills and knowledge in senior's mental health."

"It was a delight to work with her, and rewarding to know that supporting her learning would have an impact on seniors living in her country," Dr. Keren says.

Compassionate eyes and minds

Dr. Faghani knows she has a unique role in what she sets out to do, and a lot of that comes from knowing her power as a woman.

"Being a woman makes me see things differently and from different angles," she says. "Planning for any geriatric care requires compassionate eyes and minds."

Despite feeling the common pressure of women around the world trying to manage their responsibilities at home and at work, Dr. Faghani also feels determined and empowered.

"After all, it is within human nature to feel empowered whenever achieving something that may be hard to achieve in the eyes of some," she says.

The next steps

Dr. Faghani is working on a proposal to set up an academic geriatric psychiatry unit including a functional multidisciplinary team as she experienced at UHN, complete with physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, nurses and clinical pharmacists.

Now she's looking at funding proposals and collaborating with different departments in Iran, such as neurology and internal medicine, in hopes to make multidisciplinary clinics in geriatric psychiatric care a reality. 

“I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me thanks to open-minded Canadians,” Dr. Faghani says. “And, now my patients on the other side of the world can benefit from your valuable expertise and experience.”

The International Centre for Education (UHN ICE)

The UHN International Centre for Education™ (UHN ICE™) seeks to educate and innovate without borders. UHN ICE leverages a wide range of expertise to build educational programs and relationships that translate into high quality healthcare through teaching and learning. Our mission is to transform patient care through excellence in education and cultivation of healthcare leaders in the global community.

The Personalized Learning Program (PLP) is a fully customizable, observership-based program designed to meet learners' goals and objectives. No 2 PLPs are exactly the same! The flexibility of the program allows for leveraging various programs, resources and expertise throughout UHN, when applicable. The team at UHN ICE works closely with learners and host programs to develop an Education Plan that meets the identified learning objectives. The PLP can be developed in any program/department and area within the organization, including but not limited to, Clinical Programs, Administration, Education, Simulation and Research, to name a few.  In addition to exposure to UHN expertise, learners are provided one-on-one meetings with key staff members and an opportunity to network with staff, learners and trainees.

The UHN ICE team provides full support for learners and host programs prior to and during the PLP. Starting with initial learner interviews to clarifying learning objectives to checking-in with learners and host(s) to ensure objectives are being met and the experience is beneficial to all parties. During their exit interview, learners receive a UHN PLP Certificate of Completion.

For more information please contact Dalia.almouaswas@uhn.ca

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