Both Doctor and Patient

Dr. Ian King

By Jeff Vircoe; Photo Credit Melissa Fabrizio

Dr. Ian King, a new psychiatrist at EHN Canada’s Edgewood facility, understands recovery from both sides of the desk.

During an interview dinner for a new position at Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, B.C., Dr. Ian King disclosed his struggles with addiction to his future peers.

“At the dinner, they were deciding to order drinks and I stepped up and told them I won’t be, because I am in recovery. That was pretty interesting.”

Now, as one of the facility’s psychiatrists, Dr. King is settling in at one of the nation’s leading addiction treatment providers.

As a young doctor, he has enough educational credibility and street smarts to eventually become one of its leaders. King has an impressive resume. His post-secondary journey started in 2007 with four years towards a biological sciences degree at the University of Calgary, in his hometown. He then shifted gears toward medicine at the University of Alberta, graduating from medical school in 2017. He would follow that up with five more years of psychiatry residency, also at U of A.

Along the medical school path, King did rotations in family medicine, surgery, geriatrics, pediatrics, and forensics across a host of major hospitals and clinics that dot the northern Alberta landscape. But by the time he came to the final year of his residency training, he knew he wanted to help people with addiction issues.

The timing was perfect.

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry just so happened to have an opening for a new Fellowship in Addiction Medicine, accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, as an area of focused competence in addiction medicine. Other fellowships exist in the field, but mostly in the United States and abroad.

King applied and was accepted.

“It was almost like a pilot project,” says King. “There was a whole lot of extra stuff that was associated with that. I had to meet all these Royal College objectives. I had to meet a whole bunch of extra training that wouldn’t have been part of my regular psychiatric training. There was a research component, I had to do some teaching. There was a whole bunch of hoops I had to jump through, but it was totally worth it.”

He is the inaugural fellow.

A New Beginning

In the winter of 2023, as he sits in his office in the main building on the Edgewood campus waiting to see his next patient, he is a man with the letters BMSc. MD. FRCPC. DRCPSC (Addiction Medicine) behind his name.

King is soft-spoken. He is a great listener. He maintains eye contact. His energy is calm, his wisdom seemingly beyond his 33 years on the planet. It is a disarming disposition, perhaps not surprising considering he is also a man in long-term recovery.

His journey to Vancouver Island from Alberta’s foothills is steeped with family values, higher learning, and a deep desire to help others. He has a keen awareness that because of his training, his own story, and the mentors he has been blessed with along the path to Edgewood, he can make a difference in the lives of many.

“The privilege to be in this spot where people are coming in here and they are hoping and they are putting so much trust in me to walk alongside them in the most vulnerable spots of their lives, it is meaningful work. It is something I can take very seriously,” he says.

In his final year of residency, when he knew addiction medicine was where his mind and heart were, he needed to complete an elective, or practicum as some call it. As a child, the oldest of four boys, he had fond memories of how he and his family had spent summers in the resort areas of Parksville, 20 minutes north of Nanaimo.

During residence training, he spent some time in residential treatment centres around Edmonton. Winter 2021 was fast approaching, and he knew firsthand that Vancouver Island offered “pretty well the nicest weather we are going to get in Canada. So, Nanaimo was kind of in the back of my mind.”

He reached out to Edgewood, more on a whim than an expectation. Could he do that elective at the centre? Do they even do that?

“I am in Edmonton, just sitting at the hospital at work one day, and I get a call from [Dr. Mel Vincent, Edgewood’s long-time psychiatrist, author, and speaker]. He was like ‘Hey, we would actually love to have you and we are looking for a psychiatrist.’ They had been searching for a couple of years. I was like, okay! I had no intention of actually ending up here working. I just thought it was going to be a cool month-long journey,” says King.

Under the supervision of Dr. Vincent and Edgewood’s physician and director of medical services, Dr. Gary Richardson, King began to learn Edgewood’s process in November 2021. That process, particularly under the guidance of two such highly respected mentors with such a wealth of hands-on experience in one of Canada’s most well-respected treatment centres, (both men have over 20 years guiding Edgewood’s medical direction), led to King’s formal acceptance of a position as the facility’s second full-time psychiatrist by the time he was done with his elective. He knew he was in the right place.

He started work officially in that capacity in August 2022.

Pillars of Recovery

He remains extremely grateful for the support he gets from these pillars of recovery medicine on the West Coast.

“Oh man, I don’t even know how to put into words how much I appreciate them,” he says. “On an academic level, just having two guys who obviously know what they are talking about. So, when I run into a problem, or even sometimes as a beginning guy, just hearing my own thought process, and rebounding it off someone that I trust, with them giving me that ‘yeah, that makes sense,’ that just puts me at ease. It is nice to not feel like I am on an island by myself, especially in the beginning.”

“Just on a personal level, they are both such supportive, open and, if I can use the word, loving guys – they are such good models for me. The things that they don’t get bent out of shape over, the reasons that they come into work every day, they are really good influences on me this early in my career.”

From his perspective, Dr. Vincent says the feeling is mutual.

“Firstly, he is a highly trained addition to our program. He is extremely up to date on best practises in addiction, in addition to completing his psychiatry training,” says Dr. Vincent. “In terms of his character, he is a wonderful human being and is clearly a team player. He is very caring and interested in the well-being of our patients. He has an amazing ability to be kind and supportive, a superb listener, in addition to be able to be firm and set appropriate limits when necessary.”

For his part, King may be the new guy, or the beginner as he likes to call himself, but he is not about to make waves, not for a moment. The month spent on his elective at Edgewood taught him so much.

“It is about having just a real good appreciation for what the tradition has been here. When I hear the term ‘New Wave,’ I don’t think I am coming in here with any intentions of bringing about a revolution, that’s for sure. Edgewood already fit quite well with the treatment philosophy that I appreciate. Especially at the beginning. I think it is more of a sense of how do I learn to be a part of something great, rather than bring about big change?”

Bringing Balance to the Medical Team

Married, with two small children, King is appropriately guarded about his private time. Good boundaries, those in the business might say. He will talk about his own path to recovery but is not willing to make his public profile predominantly about it. In other words, he understands the delicate balance between his own recovery process and helping others with theirs.

Thinking back to revealing his recovery journey during his interview, he says It was his first glimpse into some of the changes that Edgewood was making in its delivery of medical services, and how he would be playing such a pivotal role.

“It was interesting to see how that acknowledgement sort of began to bridge a bit of a divide between the existing medical team and the counseling staff,” says King.

“On the clinical team, so many of them are in recovery themselves. On the medical team, there hadn’t been any who were in recovery. So, I think there was always just a little bit of a divide there. When I use the word divide, I certainly don’t mean with the cohesion of the team or in the dedication to the work, or anything like that. Just a gap in perspective, probably. I think it is quite a novelty to have somebody on the medical team who is also in recovery.”

Dr. Vincent, meanwhile, sees his colleague’s recovery as one more asset to that team.

“Obviously, he is the first physician that we have had who is in his own personal recovery. I am thrilled that we now have this balance,” says Dr. Vincent.

“He feels like a little brother to me, as I’ve benefitted from his up-to-date training and experience, and he hopefully benefits from my decades of clinical experience. I believe we are working extremely well together, and I cannot imagine a better fit. I really enjoy his personality, he has a good sense of humor, plays well with others, and has fit into the team seamlessly.”

The senior psychiatrist throws in a team-friendly poke for good measure.

“Besides, my wife thinks he’s very good-looking and loves his hair.”

King appreciates all the people, the patients, the clinicians, the support of so many. He knows it is way more a calling than a job and he is very much trusting the process of his predecessors.

“It helps maintain my recovery, for sure,” he says. “It is a constant reminder that I am one decision from being on the other side of this interaction. Again, maybe it is not good scientific language, but it fills my soul. Even when it hurts, it is like, man, it is still something worth being a part of. It is meaningful.”

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