From Aleppo to Pembroke: Syrian refugee doctor wants to make a difference in underserved area after residency in Ottawa

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The Pembroke Regional Hospital is very pleased to welcome Dr. Pierre Zakko, specialist in internal medicine, to its team of professionals.

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An internal medicine doctor, or internist, is a doctor who specializes in the internal organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. These doctors help manage diseases of these and other organs, and are acutely aware of how these organs interact. They specialize in adult medicine and are specially trained to solve diagnostic problems, manage serious long-term illnesses and help patients with multiple and complex chronic diseases.

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Zakko, who joined the hospital in mid-July, was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, where he went to medical school and graduated in 2015.

In 2016, he came to Canada as a Syrian refugee and spent two years in Montreal to complete his equivalency exams and work at Clinique Le Plein Ciel in Saint-Laurent, Quebec. where he worked with various physicians specializing in family medicine and other disciplines.

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« I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the University of Ottawa’s internal medicine residency program in 2018, where I spent the next four years, » said Zakko, adding that he completed in June of this year and moved to Pembroke to start in a full time position at PRH as an internist.

Zakko said he always wanted to do internal medicine, and a positive residency experience at the University of Ottawa helped reinforce that.

“I really enjoyed my time during my internal medicine residency in Ottawa. It gave me a lot of experience in dealing with very complicated cases and the ability to see the big picture when dealing with them.

His decision to come to Pembroke after completing his residency was a direct result of his experience here last February when he interned at PRH.

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« The people here – staff and patients – were so kind, welcoming and easy to work with, and I realized how underserved this area was, so I thought I could make a difference by working here » , did he declare.

Dr. Kong C. Li, Chief of Internal Medicine and Critical Care at Pembroke Regional Hospital, described Dr. Zakko as a team player who is a great person to work with, is always willing to help and brings with him « impeccable references and recommendations ».

Li shared that Dr. Zakko’s full-time commitment to the community has helped realize the hospital’s management team’s vision to launch a rapid-access internal medicine clinic that can see emergency patients after their visit to the emergency department or their discharge from hospital. Although plans to do so have been in the works for several years, the hospital has been unable to obtain the specialist support it needs.

“The creation of this clinic has greatly improved the process of returning patients home. It also helps to enable the follow-up of our patients who have internal medicine issues but do not have a family doctor,” Li said.

Zakko also works at the Cardiac Function Clinic and Cardiology Clinics at the hospital.

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