Know Your Heroes: Esther Bui

Know Your Heroes showcases the many different people and roles that make up #TeamUHN. We celebrate these people, who strive to make the world a healthier place every day.

Name: Esther Bui

Role: Neurologist, Epileptologist

Years working in health care: 10

Current city: Toronto

I decided to get into healthcare to help others, simply put. Being part of people’s journey in life is a true privilege that only a few professions have, with medicine being one of them. People trust their physicians to not just be the expert in disease but a compassionate, thoughtful, humane guide along this particular part of their journey. It is a true privilege to hear back from patients who reach out, long after this part of their journey has been completed to share how life has continued on.

My role here at UHN is to continue to develop an epilepsy program that is unique and specifically tailored to women’s priorities in the management of epilepsy, including menstrual-related seizures, contraceptive options, preconception counselling, pregnancy care, family planning, fertility treatments, bone health, perimenopause and menopause. All of these important issues impact a woman’s options and their choices at important crossroads intersecting with their epilepsy care.

Related content: Dr. Esther Bui helps epileptic patient
Amy Swenson-Tiano navigate her complex pregnancy.

COVID-19 has affected me with the near-complete conversion of my in-person clinics to virtual clinics. Interestingly, epilepsy care has adapted exceedingly well to virtual care. Many patients aren’t able to drive due to their epilepsy and being able to see their neurologist from home has been a true blessing. As well, the epilepsy and pregnancy clinic has monthly visits for women during their pregnancy. Converting these visits to virtual care has also made life a lot more manageable for my patients especially those who have young children at home.

The thing I love the most about my job is the intellectual curiosity that is inherent in medicine as well as the ability to explore and expand the boundaries of medicine through academic practice. There are so many aspects of my job that I love that it would be hard to provide a complete list!

It is also an honour to take part in the training of the next generation of neurologists as it forces me to constantly reflect on how we can do better, and we can do better. In the creation of a Women’s Epilepsy program, the development of a Women’s Epilepsy committee at the national level and now this year, Canada’s first Woman’s Neurology training program, I believe that we’re heading in the right direction. The practice of medicine is a profession where “work” is truly a calling and something that I am incredibly proud to be a part of.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is the women who come to their first appointment in the Women’s Epilepsy clinic being long defined by their epilepsy – and the subsequent and gradual transformation to where epilepsy is no longer a defining point in who they are but rather, the person that they see in the mirror, and for some women, the little baby that they hold. This remarkable transformation happens nearly every week in the clinic.

I’m inspired by the women in the Women’s Epilepsy clinic, whose strength and courage in living with epilepsy and the insistence that there is a better life for themselves and their families. I have been so inspired by their courage and the transformation that happens. I often reflect on how different these women are from their very first visit and then over the long journey in becoming a more empowered, informed and confident version of themselves. I often can’t believe how lucky I am to have my job.

My personal heroes are my mom and dad because even from a very young age (as the only daughter, and youngest child in a family of four) my limits were never defined by my gender. I had an equally fair playing ground to achieve as far as I could be fueled by my motivation, creativity and work ethic.

I sometimes worry about finding the right balance between providing the best possible care for my patients and being present for my young children, husband and family. It simply isn’t possible to be in two places at once. Quoting from another hero of mine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “You can’t have it all at once,” but she goes on to say “over my lifespan, I think I have had it all, but in given periods of times”. I am hoping the notorious RBG is right!

I’ve found joy recently from forest therapy or forest bathing. The Japanese call it “green therapy”. During the height of the first COVID-19 wave, I would take our children (often driving for more than an hour) to find a forest for them to play in. What started in High Park then expanded to the northern reaches of our beautiful city. I have realized, because of COVID-19, that the city is immersed in a beautiful forest canopy.

My favourite movie is Harold and Maude because it challenges our understanding of love and the oftentimes comedic human journey that we are all on.

My ideal day off is spent with a book and the radio (in the forest of course).

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