Doctors tend to move around a lot early in their careers — it’s typical for young physicians to spend time at different teaching hospitals across the country as they complete their training. A region may see a brilliant, up-and-coming doctor pass through for a research project, only to move on once it’s completed. This is one of the many reasons why the Alberta cancer care community is so fortunate that, after completing a research fellowship at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Dr. Wajid Sayeed, a skilled neuro-oncologist, elected to stay in the province.
After studying at universities and hospitals in Ontario and Manitoba, Sayeed, who was born in Calgary but grew up in Ontario, came to Alberta as the inaugural recipient of the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Lynne Marshall and Wayne Foo Cancer Research Clinical Fellowship Clinical Fellowship in 2015. Shortly after that fellowship wrapped up in July 2017, he accepted a position as a staff neuro-oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
Sayeed spends his days seeing patients with brain cancer, assessing and guiding them through their treatment, and working in conjunction with them to gather data for clinical research projects. While retaining a bright young doctor is always a boon in any community, dedicated neuro-oncologists (i.e. doctors specializing in cancers of the brain and spinal cord, as opposed to more general oncologists who work in consultation with neurologists) are a relative rarity in Canada, making Sayeed’s presence in the province particularly valuable.
“In Canada, if you count up the number of neurology-trained neuro-oncologists, there are probably between seven and 10 of us, including myself,” Sayeed says. “It just happened that, here in Edmonton, there was a neuro-oncologist who was retiring at the same time I was graduating, so at that point I decided to stay in Alberta.”
A large part of Sayeed’s time in Calgary during his fellowship was spent researching highly aggressive brain tumours called glioblastoma and the benefits of removing those tumours in their entirety, a topic he’s continuing to monitor through his patients at the Cross Cancer Institute. Traditionally, many neurosurgeons only remove part of a tumour, believing that a full extraction increases the risk of damaging surrounding brain tissue without actually improving the patient’s prognosis. Sayeed’s research, however, reveals that complete removal can indeed increase life expectancy, so he’s using his position at the Cross Cancer Institute to encourage colleagues to remove as much of each tumour as possible.
“Here in Edmonton, we have a number of surgeons who are more conservative and who choose to preserve patient quality of life by not being too adventurous in their resections, and I’m seeing if I can change some minds with this research,” Sayeed says. “I’m not a neurosurgeon, so I’m coming at this from the outside, but I see these patients afterwards and have to give them a treatment plan. The results of their surgery can really shape the entire clinical course of their treatment.”
Dr. Jay Easaw, a medical oncologist now based at the Cross Cancer Institute, worked with Sayeed during his fellowship in Calgary, and the two continue to work together closely in Edmonton. Easaw says that it has been a joy to watch Sayeed make the transition from student to colleague.
“He’s an outstanding physician. I’ve seen him grow in that he’s now at a point where he commands respect from his group because he’s so knowledgeable,” Easaw says. “He’s understood very quickly that the way to get a team to work well is not to be dictatorial or overly demanding, but to be collaborative.”
Whether it’s collaborating with colleagues or working directly with patients, Sayeed’s focus has shifted from lab work to patient care, making him a better and more sensitive physician. His continued dedication to learning more about what will improve his patients’ quality and longevity of life is part of what makes him such an asset to Alberta’s health-care system.
“My experience has obviously grown, and my appreciation for how to deliver what is ultimately devastating news to a patient has become more nuanced,” Sayeed says. “It’s something that I’m still learning every day, but I’ve learned to read people better. That’s something I’ve definitely added to my medical tool box.”