A Strong Voice for Manitoba Physicians

Dr. Aaron Chiu

installed as new President of Doctors Manitoba

When Dr. Aaron Chiu was invited to become honorary secretary of Doctors Manitoba four years ago, he admittedly didn’t know what he was getting into.

He thought the role primarily involved taking notes at board meetings. Dr. Chiu was just pleased to volunteer for his professional association so he let his name stand for nomination. Fast forward to his first board meeting. Dr. Chiu was installed as honorary secretary, alongside a new treasurer, and then president-elect Dr. David Cram. Everyone clapped after the vote.

“But awkwardly, there was also personal congratulations which I thought was out of place for someone whose role was writing notes at in-camera meetings,” said Chiu. “It was later that Dr. David Cram mentioned to my surprise that being elected secretary meant my eventual succession to president.”

Despite his initial mistake, Dr. Chiu’s addition to the board has been a boon to Doctors Manitoba. And  it will continue. In early May, Dr. Chiu was installed as Doctors Manitoba’s newest president during  the annual general meeting and awards dinner inside the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. About 250 guests were in attendance at the celebration.

Dr. Chiu, a neonatologist at the Children’s Hospital and St. Boniface General Hospital, takes over from Dr. Barbara Kelleher. She served as president of the Doctors Manitoba board for 2016 and  2017.

Dr. Chiu assumes the top post during fascinating times. A new Progressive Conservative provincial government, led by Premier Brian Pallister, is in place. In March 2017, the government put forth legislation removing wages from the bargaining table for the public sector, including health care workers and doctors. The proposed legislation will see a two-year wage freeze in those sectors. Dr. Chiu will helm the ship, steering the board and Manitoba physicians through these waters.

Putting aside wage issues, physicians work lives are also shifting with current tides.

“We do live in interesting times,” Dr. Chiu told his colleagues at the awards dinner. “We face unprecedented changes in our profession, and in the health care system physicians are looking after more patients with frequently multiple, chronic conditions requiring complex level of care.”

That reality is compounded with increasing clinical and administrative demands and “limited and frequently inadequate resources” to meet those demands, he told the crowd.

“While there are no simple answers to solve the complex issues faced by our profession, I know that united the physicians of Manitoba will meet these challenges with respect for and dedication to our patients, to our colleagues and to our profession.”

Dr. Chiu is experienced and very adept at facing complex issues. As a neonatologist, his tiny patients often present as a puzzle of complicated problems. Dr. Chiu puts the pieces together, working side-by- side with a team of dedicated nurses, physicians, and allied health specialists. The work is challenging but gratifying.

“I love acute care. I love pediatrics. And I love working with kids,” said Dr. Chiu, in conversation a few weeks before his installation as president.

When Dr. Chiu first went into pediatrics, he  considered hematology-oncology. However,  he quickly realized that something was missing: the hands-on of acute care, and the satisfaction of helping infants with chronic conditions get better over time.

“It just seemed to fit me,” he said.

With neonatology all the boxes are ticked, except one.

“What I don’t get from pediatrics, is that I don’t get to talk to the patients but I do talk to the parents and the families,” said Dr. Chiu. “And it’s just amazing the relationships that you have. Some of them end up being good friends.”

Dr.  Chiu’s life in medicine was destined. On the day of  his birth in Hong Kong, his maternal grandfather decided young Aaron would grow up to become the first doctor in the family. The expectation wasn’t stressful but rather just an accepted fact for his life, said Dr.  Chiu.

“There was always the sense that you’re going to use your skills, your talent, and you’re going to give back.”

Using those skills and talents in medicine came to fruition later. At age eight, Aaron, his parents, and three siblings immigrated to Toronto, settling in Canada permanently.

He was a good student and worked hard. In 1991, Aaron graduated from the University of Toronto’s medical school. He then completed a rotating residency at North York General Hospital, followed by a pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario at the University of Ottawa, and neonatal-perinatal medicine fellowship at CHEO.

Turns out his family knew best. Becoming a doctor was the right choice for Dr. Chiu.

“It has been fantastic. It’s a great profession.”

That profession brought him to Manitoba in 1998 to join the section of Neonatology at the Faculty of Medicine.   He has flourished professionally in this province. His resume is impressive. Today, Dr. Chiu is also an associate Professor of pediatrics at the University of Manitoba;  the

director of the Manitoba RSV Prophylaxis Program for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority; and the past Chair of the Neonatal Perinatal Medicine Subspecialty Committee for Canada’s Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons

In 2012 he completed a masters of business administration at the University of Manitoba with a focus on human resources and organizational behaviour and decision making. In addition, Dr. Chiu is the associate dean, quality improvement and accreditation at the U of M’s College of Medicine. He also sits on the board of MD Financial; and is currently taking the directors education program the Institute of Corporate Directors. That program teaches high-level corporate and board leaders the fundamentals of their roles and responsibilities, including financial understanding and oversight.

“I just love challenges. I love expanding things that I can do,” said Dr. Chiu.

All his extra-curricular professional activity will help him in his new role as president of Doctors Manitoba. He is firmly committed to being a voice for Manitoba doctors by listening to their concerns and issues and effectively communicating those concerns, said Dr. Chiu. He also wants to make meaningful connections with the new generation of doctors, including medical students and residents, to make the profession better now and for the future.

He is invested in that future for professional, and personal reasons, too. Dr.  Chiu’s wife Leslie Simard-Chiu is a family physician in Winnipeg. Their eldest daughter is studying chemistry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She plans to go into medicine. Their youngest daughter is eyeing a career in bio-medical engineering.

“I’m quite passionate about empowering the next generation,” said Dr. Chiu. “It’s important for new physicians to have their voice, to give us their opinions in terms of how they see the landscape changing, how they see medicine changing as well.”