Kali Romano

Heart, Lungs and Soul: Dr. Kali Romano Brings Good Medicine in Relationship and Connection

“It's only in retrospect that you can appreciate that the things you've done build up to where you end up later,“ Kali Romano shares. She grew up in Penticton, British Columbia and became a doctor in Vancouver. After residency, she specialized in anaesthesiology and intensive care. Romano later went to the UK for specialized heart and lung anesthesia practice and intensive care for cardiac surgical and transplant patients. She ended up doing a lot of COVID intensive care medicine, too, on a trip that was at times a devastating whirlwind. 

“It's very rewarding to feel like you're able to contribute and help people. It can be very sad at times, obviously in intensive care not everyone is able to survive their illness. It can be very emotional and that's a lot of caring for families, as well as caring for patients,” she reflects. She plans to provide anesthesia and intensive care at Vancouver General Hospital on her return.

She didn’t plan to be a doctor and only chose Vancouver to be near her brother. Her undergraduate degree was in science and she met a lot of people studying pre-med. Medical school sounded interesting and she applied, exploring her medical career options until she found her fit. 

Before considering a career in medicine, she had a certain idea of what a doctor could be and it turned out there were so many more available options. “Doctors come in all different interests and scopes of practice and styles. If you think you're remotely interested, you should look into it because it's good job security, a world of opportunity and a transportable skill set,” Romano encourages. 

“I felt like I fit in in anesthesia. I loved, ironically, taking care of really, really sick people. I enjoyed doing that and I realize now it's because of the medicine, but it's also the relationships you build with families and people who are in a vulnerable place. You realize that you have a responsibility to look after them when their family can't be with them,” she shares. 

Growing up, she enjoyed school but it didn’t excite her. “I got good grades. I tried hard and was respectful and everything, but I definitely didn't have it all figured out,” Romano recalls. She had a supportive family cheering her on to become her own person, to do her best and to be happy. Nobody expected her to become a doctor which made for less pressure. 

Moving to the city for school from a small town, with travel home for visits harder but lots of growth opportunities close at hand can be overwhelming, she found. “I think you learn a lot about yourself in going away. You can always go back, but it's worth a shot to branch out. It opens up an entire world of possibilities you didn't know existed,” she encourages. 

Video chats and phone calls help with loneliness and she found other people going through the same thing, alone and away from family, without friends and looking to connect. She met her best friends who are also doctors while she was away. Romano thought she would graduate and come back home to work in her hometown but life had other plans: a white coat and stethoscope.  

Illustration by Shaikara David

While encouraged by the promise of a job when she graduated, she struggled with imposter syndrome without a connection to doctors in the family or a group of connected professionals. Sometimes people made unkind comments about it, too. Ultimately, her unique background made her stand out in a good way, with her work ethic and ability to relate to people that came from her time working in the grocery store and the restaurant. 

“What you realize with time is that it doesn't matter what you do, the principles of work and being part of a community don't change. Your ability to be kind to each other, look after each other and do good work doesn't change whether you're a doctor, whether you work at a clothing store, or whether you're in the restaurant service industry. It doesn't matter,” Romano shares. She believes hard work, teamwork and customer service have served her even more than knowing the science. While she loves her job, she is inspired by and in awe of creative people who make art. 

If she could give her younger self advice it would be, “Don’t try so hard to overanalyze what you're doing and feel like it's not good enough. You don't have to know your plan. Just start something, do something and see what opportunities come up.”  She’s grateful for her mentors and found letting go of expectations helped with not getting thrown off when things took an unexpected turn. 

To maintain her wellness and overcome barriers, Romano finds maintaining connections to people who knew her before medical school helps a lot because they know her so well. UBC’s Indigenous admissions program and student support helped a lot and she’s found community among Indigenous medical professionals and colleagues. 

When she needs inspiration, she looks to genuine acts of kindness and positive stories on social media. She is also inspired by the opportunity to give back. “No matter how far you get along on your individual path, I think we all have just a responsibility to be kind to each other,” she reflects. Romano is impressed by people who forge their own path through creativity and innovation without as much access to power and privilege. “Everybody inspires everyone. We all need to look around at each other and take inspiration from each other,” she continues. 

Looking back, Kali Romano knows that it's only in retrospect that you can appreciate that the things you've done build up to where you end up later. She didn’t plan to be a doctor, to travel the world and to help so many people but that’s how things turned out. As a healer and a helper, she’s paying it forward however she can, caring for patients and their families and encouraging a new wave of Indigenous doctors to join her in their own time. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    April 18, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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