Know Your Heroes: Melissa Li

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: Melissa Li
Title: Palliative Care Physician, UHN
Number of years working in health care: Two years on faculty, seven years in medical school, residency and fellowship training
Hometown: China, and raised in London, Ontario

I decided to get into health care because it is first and foremost a career about human connection, whether it is through the relationships I cultivate with my patients and their families, or the colleagues and trainees I work with on a daily basis. I love that medicine is a field where you are forever learning, not only about the science behind the latest clinical advancements, but also learning and growing through regular engagement with patients, families and colleagues who all come from different cultures and backgrounds.

My role here at UHN is to care for patients and families living with serious illness as a palliative care consultant. I also provide care at Kensington Hospice. My academic interests include building capacity in non-malignant palliative care and resident assessment within medical education. Currently, one of the projects I’m excited about is the formation of our Supportive Care Memory Outpatient Clinic, which is a new collaboration between Palliative Care and Neurology to promote earlier advanced care planning discussions for patients living with neurodegenerative diseases.

COVID-19 has affected me by reminding me not to take life for granted. This pandemic has forced all of us to slow down, and it uprooted many prior plans. Throughout the chaos, uncertainty and fear, I have found a greater sense of gratitude for the simple, yet often best things in life.

The thing I love the most about my job is how much I learn from my patients and their families about what is truly important and how to live well. I am humbled every day by the strength, compassion and resilience I see in my patients as they face difficult news. It is a privilege to help patients and families find peace and comfort during harrowing times. I went into palliative care because of my own mentors in the field, and I love being able to teach and work daily with residents and medical students. I also love how truly interdisciplinary and team-based palliative care is. I learn every day from phenomenal colleagues!

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is the way teams and colleagues have risen throughout these relentless past 18 months to provide not only compassionate, patient-centered care to patients and families, but also care for each other in a kindhearted, empathic way. I was late at work one evening when I ran into our regular housekeeper, who cleans our offices after hours. I must have looked hungry, because he asked if I’d eaten dinner yet. Upon hearing I had not and with the cafeteria already closed, he brought me back a home-cooked meal. He assured me that he always brings multiple meals a day in case a colleague needs one. His kindness, generosity and care in that moment lifted my spirits so immensely after a long day. It was the highlight of my month!

I’m inspired by people and leaders who are not afraid to show vulnerability.  

One of my personal heroes is Michelle Obama because she is an inspirational role model and advocate who demonstrates strong moral integrity, humility and conviction.  

I sometimes worry about the ongoing impact of human consumption and population growth on our environment.

I’ve found joy recently from exploring numerous trails and hikes throughout our beautiful city in this gorgeous weather. Summer is finally here!

My favorite book I’ve read lately is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty because it is an inspiring and timely read for modern society about the lessons and wisdom learned from living like a monk. It is highly relatable to everyday life.

My ideal day off is making brunch with my husband, spending the afternoon outdoors and cooking a new recipe for dinner with friends and family.

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