Aug. 29, 2023

Blood and bone marrow doc inspired by Tanzanian spirit

Medical sabbatical to east African nation offers great insights for UCalgary faculty member Jiri Slaby
Dr. Jiri Slaby, MD, PhD, takes in a remarkable view from the Mambo View Point looking over the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania last year.
Jiri Slaby takes in a remarkable view from the Mambo View Point looking over the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania last year. Jiri Slaby

For hematologist and UCalgary clinical assistant professor Dr. Jiri Slaby, MD, PhD, spending nearly a year practising and lecturing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, opened his eyes to a broader view of medical education and research.

Slaby worked at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences and Muhimbili National Hospital through a volunteer sabbatical opportunity available to members of the University of Calgary Medical Group (UCMG).

“It was a profound learning and life experience. It changes your perspective on the world,” says Slaby. “I returned feeling like I got more out of it than I could give.

"The learners and medical professionals in Tanzania were deeply inspiring. Their commitment to growing and improving the hematology program — and ultimately improving the care people in Tanzania receive — was evident every day.”

Hematology is the study and care of blood and bone marrow diseases, where tests can help diagnose various health problems including anemia, hemophilia, blood-clotting disorders and leukemia.

Slaby returned from Tanzania this summer after spending 11 months there as an honorary lecturer and hematologist. He practised in a rapidly growing country that is developing and expanding its access to technologies in hematology services. The number of hematologists serving the area has quadrupled in the past 10 years and more physicians are in postgraduate training. The hospital where he worked has a lasting and successful history of working with international educators and specialists.

Dr. Jiri Slaby

Jiri Slaby

Kyle Marr, Cumming School of Medicine

In the role, he attended daily rounds, seeing between seven to 25 patients daily, quickly integrating into the team dynamic. Teaching responsibilities included discussing patients with learners, grand rounds and a journal club. He also worked closely with a paediatric group and participated in those rounds, supporting education and patient care. He organized seminars with fellows and residents and spent time teaching clinically and in lecture halls, teaching pre-graduate students, registrars, internal medicine and hematology residents. Slaby also took part in seminar exams as an examiner and was present in several dissertation and doctoral defenses.

“I viewed my role as a catalyst, helping learners develop and evolve as care providers and preparing the next generation for the challenges ahead of them and where to look for solutions,” he says. “I was struck by the passion and willingness to learn. Many of the people I worked with are future leaders in their community and it was satisfying to be a part of their learning journey.”

Slaby was born in the Czech Republic, earning his MD and PhD from Charles University in Prague. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to train and conduct research in bone marrow transplantation at the University of Minnesota. He later served as consultant hematologist in Dublin, Ireland, before arriving in Calgary in 2010.

Rich, complex experience

Slaby says the COVID-related restrictions and challenges in the past few years kickstarted his interest in a UCMG sabbatical opportunity.

“We have all dealt with a lot. It highlighted that these personal and professional growth opportunities can be taken for granted,” he says. “I decided it was the right time for me and pretty soon I started thinking about where and when.”

Once he decided to pursue an opportunity in Tanzania, things fell into place quickly.
Slaby applied for the sabbatical in January and by April was accepted and preparing for a flight to Dar es Salaam. The East African culture, people and opportunity to explore a new country and region left a lasting impression.

My experience was rich and complex. It was a step out of my comfort zone which is not always easy. In medicine there are always going to be challenging experiences, but I was able to mentor talented people and learn a few things along the way. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

Formed in 1987, UCMG physicians members provide patient care, education and lead research projects in various medical specialties while supporting the academic mission of the university. UCMG membership has steadily grown to more than 700 physicians in southern Alberta.

Members receive administrative support such as finance, billing and transcription services. A partnership with Alberta Health Services also supports technology improvements and clinical space requirements. Members can also access professional sabbatical opportunities, fellowship training awards and other professional development opportunities.

Jiri Slaby is a hematologist and UCalgary clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is a University of Calgary Medical Group member based primarily out of the Peter Lougheed Centre.