Dr. Magali Pham: changing patients’ lives through radiology

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A radiologist specializing in thoracic imaging, Dr. Magali Pham joined the Montreal Heart Institute family in 2015. Team spirit, cutting-edge technology, concern for quality… Everything was aligned for this sociable and vibrant young doctor to quickly take to her new work environment!

Radiology at the Montreal Heart Institute: a journey marked by surprises

Passionate about both science and human contact, this young woman was destined quite early for a career in medicine, a field that allowed her to tap into these two aspects of her personality. What was it about radiology? “I never wanted to become a radiologist!” she exclaims, laughing. “My whole journey is made up of unexpected turns.”

A trip abroad that changed everything

During her studies in medicine, the young woman left for an internship in Göteborg, Sweden, which changed her life. “I decided to devote myself to radiology knowing that there would be a linguistic barrier, but that images are universal.”

Is that where she discovered her new calling? Not at all! “Throughout my internship, I kept thinking this specialty wasn’t for me,” recalls Dr. Pham with amusement. “But then during each internship after that, after my return to Quebec, I was surprised to find myself missing radiology.” After two years, she finally realized that imaging had won her over.

“I understood that in radiology, one has access to a complete view of the patient. When I open an imaging picture, I never know what I’m going to find. It’s always a surprise. And I can know a patient’s entire history without ever meeting him or her. The image tells me everything. I see if they’re sick, what surgeries they’ve had, what they’ve done in the past, and ultimately I look for answers. It’s like being a detective.”

She then completed her training with a residency in radiology at the Université de Montréal and a year-long fellowship at Harvard, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in imaging and thoracic intervention.

Joining a young radiology department

When she finished her studies, an overhaul of the radiology department at the Montreal Heart Institute was underway. “A friend who worked there got in touch with me. He convinced me to join the team for a year. I ended up falling in love with the place and decided to stay!”

An ideal work environment for a passionate radiologist

Being as the team is made up of young radiologists who all studied together, Dr. Pham quickly felt at home. “We’re a great family, the whole team, both radiologists and technologists. We get along and everybody’s happy. Everyone works together and shares a deep concern for quality. At the Institute, we’re not always working under pressure. We can take the time to take care of our patients and our exams to get a good image quality. I wouldn’t go anywhere else!”

Dr. Magali Pham and her team

From left to right: Émilie LeBlanc, Caroline Poirier, Audrey Hétu, Magali Pham, Marc-Antoine Lavigne and Marie-Christine Baril

Making a real difference in patients’ lives

Although it is an establishment oriented towards cardiovascular health, the Montreal Heart Institute takes care of all its patients in a comprehensive manner. Every day, the radiologist sees the concrete impact of her work on patients at the Institute.

“It may seem cliche, but everything I do, I do for the patient. It’s the patient who’s at the centre of my work.” If radiology is a discipline focused on diagnosis, Dr. Pham also mentions the calcium score, an imaging exam of the heart that allows one to see calcium in the coronary arteries and whose role is important in prevention. “It’s an extremely quick exam, with a low dose of radiation and no injection of a contrast medium that allows us to give clinicians a lot of information. This information will guide us in taking care of the patient based on his or her risk factors. It’s a very useful tool for prevention.”

Having access to the most-efficient equipment on the market

Working at the Montreal Heart Institute means being able to use state-of-the-art facilities. “We offer top-quality imaging exams. Thanks to the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation, we have access to a high-performance device with which we can perform incredible examinations on patients. For example, high-quality images are needed for planning the implantation of a percutaneous heart valve or preoperative planning. Furthermore, images of the coronary arteries can be produced non-invasively, which makes it possible to detect and evaluate atherosclerotic coronary heart disease quickly.”

Having such a tool on hand also has a positive effect on research. “When research protocols are developed, one of the criteria is always to ensure a certain degree of image quality. Having access to our technology allows several research projects to see the light of day.”

The radiology department has also acquired expertise in post-mortem imaging over the past few years. “Currently, there are two centres specializing in this field, the Montreal Heart Institute and the Hôtel-Dieu in Lévis, and there are only three radiologists in Quebec who interpret post-mortem images. We work together with the Coroner’s Office, and they are delighted with our work, which greatly facilitates their investigations without them having to call for a conventional open autopsy. I think this kind of imaging will only grow in importance. The Montreal Heart Institute is really at the forefront in this regard.”

3D image of a heart

Severe stenosis of the left anterior descending artery discovered on a coronary scan (arrow), which was subsequently dilated in hemodynamics with installation of a stent.

An inspiring involvement in the community

Dr. Pham has a vivid memory from the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Headed by Sonia Heppell, an “incredible nurse” who has won several awards, a whole team of professionals from the Montreal Heart Institute went to lend a hand for a few weeks at the CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal. “When we got there, it was hard. All the different occupational groups came to lend a hand: nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, attendants… That the Montreal Heart Institute contributed to the collective effort, it made me very, very proud to be part of it.”

Safety and expertise: a considerable contribution from the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation

The Foundation also provides scholarships for employees to learn new job-related skills. This is how the radiologist was able to do a master’s degree in quality of care and patient safety, in addition to her work. “There are so many things that patients aren’t aware of, but that we have to consider, including radiation, contrast, reactions, and imaging protocols. We work on all of this upstream to ensure good image quality in a secure manner. It is part of my responsibilities to manage these protocols.”

The grants offered by the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation also help gain the expertise necessary for cardiovascular imaging. “A heart never stops moving, and it’s hard to take quality photos of an organ that’s constantly in motion. Our technologists are incredible; they’re real experts in taking these images. The Foundation allows employees to develop their skills and, through this, ensures highly specialized expertise within the Montreal Heart Institute.”

To contribute to innovations and the development of cutting-edge expertise in cardiovascular medicine, donate to the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation.

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