Dr. Alexandra Mihailovic:
Surgeon and ICU Intensivist at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals; lover of the outdoors, world-traveler, skier and free-diver, farmer, wife, mother, human
My dad was Serbian and very superstitious. I remember being five years old. I was in Belgrade with him and there was a fortune teller reading his cup. I remember her looking at me and saying, “This one’s going to be a doctor.” I never forgot it.
My first week of medical school, there was a pediatric surgeon who let us scrub in and be part of a surgery. As soon as I went into the operating room for the first time, that was it. I never looked anywhere else—I just knew surgery was what I wanted to do.
When I graduated, I promised myself that I never wanted to feel like a patient would have been better off if some other physician had been on-call. I owe it to this patient to be the best I can be, and to stay up-to-date with my knowledge. That has to come first—no matter what else is going on in your life. When you have a really slim window to help someone, it can be a bit of a burden to bear. It’s an ongoing responsibility.
There’s no ceiling to what I could tell you I’ve seen. I’ve had kids die in my hands. I’ve had tragic stories where the breadwinner of family gets hit by a car while they’re walking to work. There are heart-wrenching moments. There are moments when I’ve been in the backroom bawling and then pulling myself together and coming back out to carry on with my shift.
“As soon as I went into the operating room for the first time, that was it. I never looked anywhere else—I just knew surgery was what I wanted to do.”
“I always joke that we came to Vancouver Island in 2012 with our backpacks, and now we have two kids, eight pigs, 11 sheep, ducks, chicken, geese, and an acreage.”
I grew up in North Bay, Ontario, and went to McMaster University and the University of Toronto for my medical training. I also did a PhD, which was focused on global health, and I went to Uganda for three years to do research looking at determinants of access to care for pediatric trauma. Then, I came back to Toronto, and then to South Africa for two years to focus on trauma. I met my husband in Cape Town. We had both recently lost our moms to cancer, and we were at various stages in our lives.
I always joke that we came to Vancouver Island in 2012 with our backpacks, and now we have two kids, eight pigs, 11 sheep, ducks, chicken, geese, and an acreage. We didn’t meet each other until we were 36, so things happened quickly. Our kids are raised super feral, and this lifestyle has made them so resilient and creative.
We have a full, busy life. The farm is mostly my husband’s thing, but I do all of the vegetable growing. I mountain bike a lot, and we’re big skiers. On an ideal day, I’d wake up camping by the ocean. I’d go for a swim and then we’d have an awesome breakfast with our friends and kids running amuck. And then going mountain biking. Just lots of fun, goofiness, exercise, and ending the day with a meal, campfire, and guitars. You know, just staring at the sky and appreciating nature and friends and family and health. I feel so lucky to live here. I pinch myself constantly. You can’t even choose what to do because there are so many beautiful spots.
One of my teachers was this woman who was a total rockstar surgeon. I remember being at her house and talking to her husband and telling him that his wife is so inspiring. And I remember him very calmly saying, “But you know she has no friends, right? She has no social life outside her work.”
We take our lives so stinking seriously. If you think of the blink in time that we’re on this planet, it’s so miniscule. I think truly being human is just realizing the miracle of being here and not holding onto worrying about whatever’s next.
Somebody once told me to make your life a book you would want to read, and I love that. Whenever there are moments of transition, or uncertainty or fear when I’m really taking a risk or a plunge, I remind myself that if I were reading this book, this would be the good part. This would be the part when I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
“If you think of the blink in time that we’re on this planet, it’s so miniscule. I think truly being human is just realizing the miracle of being here and not holding onto worrying about whatever’s next.”
They are humans first, who put other humans first.
More than 7,900 caregivers and staff work around the clock at Royal Jubilee, Victoria General, and Gorge Road hospitals.
#HumansFirst is dedicated to sharing the stories from behind our hospitals’ frontlines. These stories remind us that those who provide care and keep the lights on in our hospitals also have lives outside of them. They have family and friends, they enjoy hobbies and interests, and they have all lived through their own personal triumphs and heartbreaks. Like all of us, they are human, and they have a story to tell.