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

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The Pembroke Regional Hospital is very happy to welcome Dr. Pierre Zakko, Internal Medicine specialist, to its team of professional staff.

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An internal medicine physician, or internist, is a doctor that specializes in the internal organs, including the heart, kidney, 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 severe long-term illnesses, and help patients with multiple, complex chronic conditions.

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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 completing his equivalency exams and working at the Clinique Le Plein Ciel in Saint-Laurent, Que. where he worked with a variety of physicians specializing in both family medicine and other disciplines.

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“I was lucky enough to be accepted to the internal medicine residency program at the University of Ottawa in 2018 where I spent the next four years,” Zakko said, adding that he finished in June of this year and relocated to Pembroke to start in a full time position at PRH as an internist.

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

“I very much enjoyed my time during my internal medicine residency in Ottawa. It gave me a lot of experience in treating very complicated cases and the ability to look at 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 did an elective at PRH.

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“The people here – staff and patients – were so nice, welcoming, and easy to work with, plus I realized how underserved this area is so I thought I could make a difference by working here,” he said.

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 wonderful person to work with, is always ready to help and brings with him “impeccable credentials and recommendations”.

Li shared that Dr. Zakko’s full-time commitment to the community has helped fulfill the vision of the hospital’s senior leadership team to launch a rapid access internal medicine clinic that can see patients on an urgent basis after their visit to the emergency department or discharge from hospital. While plans for this have been in the works for several years, the hospital was unable to secure the specialist support it required.

“The establishment of this clinic has greatly improved the process for discharging patients to home. This also helps to allow for follow up of our patients who have internal medicine issues but have no family doctor,” Li said.

Zakko is also working in the hospital’s heart function clinic and cardiology clinics.

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