University of Calgary

Unconventional Paths

Submitted by alumni on Sun, 04/03/2016 - 21:54.

Unconventional Paths

Meet Dr. Simon Bryant, MD’91, who recently helped more than 250 migrants on board the M.Y. Phoenix, while working for Medicins San Frontieres.
by Deb Cummings

Dr. Simon Bryant MD’91
Last year, Canmore physician and intrepid nomad, Dr. Simon Bryant, MD’91, spent six months aboard the M.Y. Phoenix with Medicins San Frontières (a.k.a. Doctors without Borders). Part of a 24–person crew, they provided medical assistance to more than 250 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean, from Libya to Europe. His second job aboard the Phoenix was to share stories with more than 500 media outlets that came aboard during Bryant’s shift at sea. For these efforts, and more, Bryant was awarded the 2015 Alumni Achievement Award.

by Deb Cummings


After averaging A+ in your BSc degree at Concordia, you could have taken Medicine anywhere — why UCalgary?

At 28, I felt like a young man in a hurry and so the three-year program here appealed to me. As did its systems-based approach.

Where else, besides a ship in the Mediterranean, have you practised medicine?

Ten years in Calgary and all over rural Alberta, for about 20. I’ve also worked as a duty doctor at heli-ski lodges, on cruise ships in Antarctica, in Rankin Inlet — it’s been a great career. A humanizing career. My motivations to practise medicine are mixed; some are altruistic, others — selfish. But it’s certainly a profession that keeps on giving back.

Who are your heroes?

My heroes change. I have iconic heroes like Gandhi and Shackleton, but then I have rolling heroes like a character I met on the Phoenix who had broken his leg, was disfigured and couldn’t walk well. Yet he always had this thumbs-up, big-smile attitude — definitely a hero.

Biggest regrets?

I could always be a better listener and I could always be less opinionated. And I am still learning to be more empathetic ... it’s hard learning at times.

Physicians witness death more than most of us — how would you like to die?

First off, I would like not to die. But I suppose one of my life’s ambitions is to pass away without regrets. To die, in good time — without causing distress to anyone. I would also like to die in such a way that I could come back every 50 years and then every 200 years and then every 500 years. I am very fascinated to see where we’re going as a species, and our resilience.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto you live by?

I like Walt Whitman’s ... “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” [From Song of Myself, written in 1855.]

Advice to new students?

Don’t expect people to come knocking on your door. Go out and get it. I have created so many opportunities for myself because I have gone seeking them. My first job as a teenager was a bike mechanic. I asked for a chance to prove myself and three days later I was sitting on the sidewalk, making a wheel. When I worked for Canada World Youth, I didn’t have the re­quired university degree but I had “the equivalent,” so I applied and got the job. When I decided I wanted to work on a ship in Antarctica, I went on the Internet and wrote a cover letter to all the different cruise companies that were doing that. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out.

Favourite books?

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. And Then There Was Light by Dirkje Van Der Horst-Beetsma. And, of course, The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Guilty pleasures?

I certainly like good food and good wine, but I don’t feel any guilt about that. Not at all. If I had to settle on one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be Japanese.

You are 57 now — are you thinking about retiring?

No, but I do find myself thinking about what I will leave behind — what is worthwhile or meaningful? I am not sure what that looks like yet, but I am searching for that. MSF certainly gave me that for six months. U