Oct. 27, 2022

Endocrinologist advocates for Calgary’s socially disadvantaged

2022 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. David Campbell, MD’12, PhD’17; assistant professor, Cumming School of Medicine
David Campbell
David Campbell Avenue Magazine

As a clinician-scientist, Dr. David Campbell, MD, PhD, straddles two worlds — that of a researcher who oversees a team of students, staff and community partners, as well as that of a doctor who sees patients with diabetes and other endocrine disorders. Where the two intersect is the community they both impact: Calgary’s socially disadvantaged, many of whom struggle to access healthy food and medical care.

After completing degrees in kinesiology and medical anthropology, followed by an MD, a PhD in health services research, and fellowships in endocrinology and inner-city health research, Campbell decided to focus on diabetes and how it’s impacted by social disparities. This led the 37-year-old powerhouse to develop a screening program at Calgary’s Drop-In Centre and a diabetes outreach program at the Mustard Seed in conjunction with UCalgary’s student-run clinic. And somehow, since 2019, he has raised more than $28 million in funding and authored 35 papers in peer-reviewed journals (78 papers in total since 2010).

Do you remember any classes or professors who were standouts?

One professor who always stood out in medical school was Dr. Hanan Bassyouni, MD’98. She showed such kindness and empathy towards the students, getting to know nearly all (180) members of the class. She also had such a passion for her specialty and the kind of work she does. She has definitely been an inspiration and I am now privileged to be her colleague.

Can you recall any embarrassing that have happened to you as a student?

One time when I was doing my clerkship rotations in medical school — I wasn’t yet used to being awake all night long — I had to assess someone in the Emergency department at four in the morning. After being awake for almost 24 hours, I was exhausted and as I listened to his heart, I actually fell asleep standing up. After some time, he tapped me on the hand and asked me if I was alright … to this day, I have no idea how long I was standing there!

What has been your biggest career highlight?

Working with people who are living with social disadvantages. I have been privileged to work with and learn from many people who have challenged my views and helped me to grow. In turn, I think my research has been able to give a voice to those who are often unheard. I have been able to see people grow and develop as we worked together to tackle difficult challenges, including a former community member who is now excelling as a graduate student on my team. 

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

I greatly appreciate teaching and mentoring the next generation of scientists and the clinicians of tomorrow. I love how eager they are for knowledge and experience. I always learn so much from them and feel like I’m able to contribute to something much bigger than myself when working with students.

Who are your biggest heroes?

Tommy Douglas, father of Canadian Medicare, and Dr. Paul Farmer, who was a tireless advocate for the poor and underserved.

Why is mentorship important?

Mentorship has made all the difference in my career. Having been privileged to learn from and receive tremendous mentorship from people who generously provided me with their time was one of the greatest gifts I received as a student. I love being able to pay that forward by mentoring and working with students and resident doctors, teaching them about my passion for health equity.

When you are not working, what do you do? 

My four kids keep me busy — between shuttling to and from hockey, ballet, football and music lessons, my evenings are pretty packed. I like to play sports with my kids and play on a recreational hockey team. I also serve in my church congregation.

What is the most annoying question that people ask you?

I always cringe when people start to ask me what kind of medicine I practise. I always know where it’s going — only one in 10 times does the person know what endocrinology is. The funny thing is that when people ask me what kind of research I do, I get the exact same response when I tell them that I am a health services researcher.


With files from Avenue Magazine.

Meet the entire 2022 cohort of Top 40 Under 40 honourees at Avenue Magazine.