Israeli MD at Firestone relishes learning opportunity

Sept. 2020
Sharon Gelbach

When Dr. Eldar Priel, an internal medicine specialist from Sheba Medical Center in Israel, decided to specialize further in respiratory illness, he never dreamed that within a few months the world would be caught up in the throes of a respiratory disease pandemic. But by the time the coronavirus spread to the West, Dr. Priel was already settled in the destination of his much-anticipated fellowship, the Firestone Institute of Respiratory Health in Hamilton.

“Fortunately, the case load in Hamilton was very low, and I was exposed only to a small number of patients – nothing in comparison to my colleagues at Sheba, who were on the front lines of COVID-19.”

From the time of his residency, Dr. Priel knew that he wanted to enrich his knowledge and expertise at a world-class facility so that he could learn from the best of the best. “I feel fortunate to have been accepted to this program,” Dr. Priel said, explaining that Firestone is famous for its contribution to research and treatment of lung diseases, specifically severe asthma and pulmonary fibrosis. 

At FIRH, Dr. Priel is exposed daily to some of the world’s most prominent physicians who employ unique treatment plans and lab processes as well as revolutionary methods, such as bronchial thermoplasty and advanced endoscopic procedures. “I consider many of the physicians at FIRH, including Dr. Param Nair, Dr. Martin Kolb, Dr. Gerrard Cox, Dr. Andrew McIvor and others, as my mentors. In addition to their vast experience, they integrate basic science, physiology, and patient care into one unifying plan, and they are a pleasure to work with,” he said.

Dr. Priel is gratified to be gaining experience and know-how in advanced procedural skills, which he plans to develop further at Sheba after he returns home from his fellowship, in the summer of 2022. “Based on my years of work here, I hope to forge professional ties, both clinical and academic, between McMaster University/FIRH and Tel Aviv University and the Pulmonary Institute at Sheba Medical Center."

Inasmuch as Dr. Priel came to Firestone to learn from the top physicians in the field, he too, feels that he has what to contribute. “Residency is very different in Canada and in Israel,” he shared. “I’m older than my colleagues and have more life experience, which includes military service, marriage and children. The six years that I worked at Sheba as a resident and junior attending have honed by ability to view the patient as a whole, a perspective I learned from my teachers at Sheba’s Internal Medicine ward.”

Another significant contribution is Dr. Priel’s “Israeli flexibility of thought.” Accustomed to the need to accommodate constantly changing realities, Israeli professionals are known for their out-of-the-box thinking and ability to devise creative solutions to stubborn issues, both urgent and mundane. “This creative mindset has led to some very positive changes within the residency program, which I’m happy to say will benefit future generations of residents here at Firestone,” he remarked.

Since arriving in Hamilton last July, Dr. Priel and his family have been getting acclimated to the Canadian personality and lifestyle. 

“The quiet, polite culture here is very different from the noise and commotion in Israel. And the lack of pressure is addictive,” he said.

“We’re enjoying all that Canada has to offer — the vast, open green spaces, seeing animals in our backyard, and of course, the snowy winter, which doesn’t exist in Israel. In our spare time, we try to go on trips, hiking in the woods and discovering the many waterfalls in the area, although sometimes we venture a little farther out. The children are becoming more proficient in English each day, and that’s exciting.

The Priels have enjoyed getting to know Hamilton’s Jewish community, which Dr. Priel describes as “very warm, spanning the entire spectrum of observance.”  

Special mention goes to Laura Wolfson and Baya Vertes for their friendship and kind help in finding an apartment and settling in when the family arrived. Before COVID-19, the Priels attended Jewish community events and fostered social ties with community members, and Hila, Dr. Priel’s wife, volunteered at Shalom Village. “Strangers are very friendly in this city, and there is a feeling of community in most places, even far from our own neighborhood,” she noted.

Since COVID, life has changed for the Priels, as it has for everyone. “We’re home a lot, where Hila continues her work in design and illustration, and raises our two sons,” Dr. Priel said. “I wish robust health to all who are sick with COVID-19 and to their families, and hope that things will return to normal very soon!”