Dr. Heizer Marval is a busy and accomplished psychiatrist at a sleep disorders clinic in Dartmouth. The idea to move to Canada came during a two-month visit to Halifax in 1999 to study English. A conversation with an immigrant from China planted a seed in his brain. “People move here? I was surprised, and in those days Venezuelans were not leaving the country.”
He completed medical school in Venezuela and arrived in Halifax in 2002 with his mother and brother to join his sister who was a Dalhousie University student. “Difficult and unpredictable,” is how he describes his first days. Heizer couldn’t practise medicine here and didn’t know what to do. “There was stress, struggle and sadness,” he admits, but he persevered. “Family is important to me and I wanted to stay. I gave myself two years as a mark.” Also, since Venezuela had become unsafe, returning was not an option.
But he connected with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) for the New Beginnings Workshop and English classes. Heizer worked with other physicians to form the Association of International Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia to help professionals overcome barriers. “We did advocacy with the Department of Health; we taught people about their options.”
While offering volunteer computer skills at Connections Clubhouse, a mental health support program, he decided to pursue psychiatry. “I’ve always been interested in the brain.”
He entered the residency program at Dalhousie which included work in Saint John, New Brunswick, Boston and Mexico, allowing him to compare psychiatric services. Heizer graduated in 2010 and is now in his challenging position at the sleep clinic. “I work with people who sleep too much, cannot sleep, or do things while they’re sleeping that they shouldn’t.” He enjoys the challenge of practicing psychiatry and finds less stigma here than in Venezuela. “People at home aren’t as integrated in the community. It’s more hopeful here.”
I think things have been good in terms of adapting to a new environment and growing and trying to give back. I’m feeling grateful of people who helped me. It has been interesting, challenging and rewarding.
Heizer met his wife, a Saskatchewan native, at an ISANS seminar on healthcare services for immigrants. She is an occupational therapist at the North End Clinic. His mother works for the Province while his sister, who has two children, works in IT for the Liquor Commission. His brother works for a bank in Toronto. Heizer has considered moving west to be close to his wife’s family, but feels rooted and even finds the weather bearable. “It‘s a small, friendly place. It’s close in terms of our ability to travel home.” He also appreciates air travel connections to visit friends in Spain.
Heizer works regular hours but studies at night to keep abreast of changes in his field. “Usually life is too busy to take time to think about it, but sometimes I feel more integrated than others,” he says, explaining that once he decided to stay, he felt settled. “I think things have been good in terms of adapting to a new environment and growing and trying to give back. I’m feeling grateful of people who helped me. It has been interesting, challenging and rewarding.”