Meet Irfan Dhalla: Unity Health Toronto’s first vice president of Physician Quality and director of the Care Experience Institute

By Amber Daugherty

Dr. Irfan Dhalla

Jan. 6, 2020 – We’re excited to introduce you to Dr. Irfan Dhalla, our new vice president, Physician Quality and director, Care Experience Institute. From 2013 to 2019, Dr. Dhalla was a vice president at Health Quality Ontario where he and his colleagues transformed the way the provincial agency supported Ontario’s health care system. In particular, HQO partnered with patients and tried to support improvements in care for all Ontarians. Irfan oversaw the work the organization did to support decisions about which health care services should be publicly funded and he also envisioned and led the development of Health Quality Ontario’s quality standards program which is now widely used across Ontario as a basis for evidence-based quality improvement. We caught up with him to ask him a few questions to help you get to know him a little bit better – here’s what he said.

Why did you first pursue a career in health care?
I liked solving problems in high school, and many people said I should study engineering at university. So I did! Halfway through my engineering degree, I realized that helping people made me happier than solving problems. Medicine seemed like a good way to do both – solve problems and help people. I feel fortunate every day to have a career in health care.

What sparked your initial interest in health care leadership?
I wanted to help solve some of the system-level problems that don’t allow people to be as healthy as they might be. I think anyone who is trying to solve these problems – and we have so many people who do this at Unity Health – is a leader.

What excites you most about your new role at Unity Health?
First, Unity Health’s mission to provide compassionate care to everyone resonates deeply with me. I have a long history with the organization – I learned how to take histories at the Wellesley Hospital as a medical student, completed many rotations at St. Michael’s as a resident physician and then I joined the Division of General Internal Medicine in 2008 and continued to attend on the inpatient service part-time during my six years at Health Quality Ontario. I’m thrilled to be back here full time.

Second, the people who work here are incredible. I’m convinced that the people at Unity Health are a unique strength of the organization.

Third, we have a huge opportunity – we can lead by example and ensure that the communities we serve receive the best care experience imaginable. In so doing, I hope we can indirectly improve health care across the country and around the world.

What is your approach to leadership?
I think I am most comfortable leading from behind. Sometimes you have to get up and give the speech in front of 100 people, but what really makes me happy is helping others succeed.

What is your favourite activity or hobby outside of work?
This one is easy – spending time with family! My spouse, Tara Kiran, is a family physician in St. Michael’s Academic Family Health Team, and we have three great kids. I’m told they grow up fast so I try to spend as much time with them as I can.

What are your priorities for your first few months in your new role?
One major priority is to spend a lot of time learning more about our health network and about the cultures at each of the sites. A second priority is to work with others across Unity Health, particularly our patient and family partners, to shape the development of the Care Experience Institute. And a third priority is to understand what physicians in particular need to provide high-quality care, since that’s in my job title!