While skiing is a passion for every member of the #CANSkiTeam, each person is unique in their passions outside the slopes. And for some, this passion can take them to exciting places, such as a medical residency!
Meet Katie Combaluzier, also known as Combo Katie, also known as Dr. Combaluzier in Gatineau, QC where she is completing her first residency as a doctor. We caught up with Katie to see how things are going so far.
Q: Which was your first passion, medicine or skiing?
A: Skiing was definitely my first passion, I started skiing at the age of two, it was something my family did together every weekend going up. For me it developed from being a leisurely pastime to a performance sport as I started ski racing at age 10. Skiing was a huge part of my life going up and it has shaped me into the person I am today.
It was because of skiing that I developed a love for sport science which led me to study kinesiology for my undergraduate degree at Queen’s University. Through my studies, I learned a lot about the human body, and promoted me to pursue a career in health care. Medicine became my second passion and I am able to draw on experiences I learned as an athlete to help my patients.
Q: When did you decide to become a doctor? Why?
A: Medicine was always something I thought I might like to do. The honest truth is that I watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy and I thought it looked cool! I really started to consider a career in healthcare during my undergrad in kinesiology, I took a lot of courses like anatomy, sport psychology, physiology, health, and nutrition. My education really made me passionate about health care and naturally led to medicine.
Q: How would you describe the journey of starting your studies to where you are now?
A: I am a wildly different person now than who I was when I started studying medicine. I went into medicine with a background in sports science and I was more drawn the more physical aspects of medicine. Originally, I wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon and deal with sport-specific injuries. However, after sustaining a major spinal cord injury from a backcountry skiing accident in 2018, and spending months in the hospital as an inpatient, I realised how this first-hand experience could set me apart from other doctors. Through my time in hospital, the moments that stood out for me were the times when someone took the time to sit down with me and have an in depth conversation. I realised the impact that a good physician-patient relationship can have. This led me to a career in family medicine because for it's patient-centred nature and its role in supporting patients through all stages of life.
My journey has now come full circle after skiing for Canada in Beijing at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games. The sport that led me to study medicine in the first place, has inspired me to dream of being part of team Canada not as an athlete, but as a team doctor.
Q: What kind of medicine would you ideally like to practice?
A: I am doing a residency in Family Medicine. I love family medicine because I recognise the impact a good family physician can have on the lives of individuals. I want to be able to build meaningful connections with patients and play a part in making lives healthier and happier. I also love family medicine because of the versatility, I can chose to further specialise in an other areas of interest. I would love to get more training in emergency medicine and sport medicine, and my ultimate goal one day would be to be a team doctor for a Canadian Paralympic team.
Q: Was it difficult to balance your studies with training or skiing?
A: I love being busy, so balancing medical school with training for skiing was a great way to keep my mind and body occupied. I was able to really hone my time management skills and I learned prioritise the things that are most important to me.
It was definitely challenging and stressful at times, but for me it was all worth it. I’m privileged to get to represent Canada in my favourite sport ever and pursue my dream career.
Q: Can you tell us about your first residency so far? What’s been the most challenging moment? The most exciting?
A: I am doing my family medicine in Gatineau, Quebec. Its always a bit of a challenge moving to a new place and adjusting to a new system. For me the most challenging part is practicing medicine in a different language than I was taught in medical school. While I am bilingual, I'm pretty unfamiliar with a lot of medical terminology in French! But I’m getting the hang of it
Most exciting moment for sure was getting my badge that says Dr Combaluzier! It’s been quite the journey to get to here and there were plenty of points along the way where I thought I wouldn’t make it. I am beyond excited to finally be working as a doctor in Canada!
Q: How do you plan to balance your future between ski racing and practicing medicine?
A: One of the reasons I chose family medicine as my specialty was because of the great work-life balance it has. Skiing and medicine are both very important to me and I am committed to finding the right balance.
I plan to ski as much as I can during my residency. Living in the Outaouais region, I have access to a lot of great local ski hills so I can train in my free time, and I hope to use my time off from work at the hospital to go to ski camps with the team. I know that pursuing a residency while trying to ski at a high level is going to be a challenge, but I'm stoked that the CPAST coaches are supportive and willing to find ways to make it work!
Q: If you had any advice for other athletes looking for a career outside of racing, what would you tell them?
A: When it comes to balancing skiing with another career, communication is key. Athletes should be totally transparent about their goals and communicate clearly and effectively. Strong time-management is also a must! It won’t be easy, but its so worth it! Developing passions outside of skiing helps to prevent burn-out and makes you a more well-rounded individual and better athlete.
Q: Do you coworkers know you’re also a Team Canada athlete? What have their reactions been?
A: I wrote about skiing for Canada as a part of my application for residency and I think it definitely strengthened my application! People have a lot of respect for Olympians and Paralympians because it demonstrates an exceptional work ethic and determination. Reactions are mostly shock at how I was able to do it all!