Meet Dipesh: Science tutor. Avid hiker. Cardiologist.
If there are two things Dr. Dipesh Pokharel is good at it’s fixing hearts and relieving fears. More often than not, they go hand-in-hand.
As a cardiologist at Vancouver Clinic, Dr. Pokharel specializes in caring for patients who have experienced a cardiac event. He splits his time between seeing acutely ill patients in the hospital and tending to patients in the clinic—those who are stable but at risk of experiencing another heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Heart problems are scary and when they occur most people think of the worst-case scenario. So Dr. Pokharel focuses on putting patients at ease. He talks them through what happened and uses diagrams and pictures to show stents, pacemakers, and other interventions. He carefully explains each medication and how it will help prevent heart problems in the future.
“Once people know what really happened some of the anxiety and stress goes away,” he says. “Knowing that we are doing something to prevent it again really helps people cope with it. My goal at the end of the visit is for them to be very calm and feel comfortable with their treatment plan.”
Like all clinic doctors, he tailors the treatment plan to each patient. Some people want to simply take their medications. Others are willing and motivated to make lifestyle changes, such as increasing the amount of exercise they’re getting, stopping smoking, rethinking their diet, or better managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
“A lot of people don’t know what to do,” he says. “I try to empower them and give them all the tools. They still have to do their part.”
It’s that collaboration that he finds personally fulfilling.
“Working with people makes me happy,” he says. “When someone comes to me with a problem and I’m able to help them see through the problem and come up with a strategy, and they go home with a plan and feel better, that makes me feel better.”
One of Dr. Pokharel’s fortes within cardiology is implanting and managing pacemakers. The device is designed for patients who have a weak heartbeat or a block. Dr. Pokharel has successfully inserted hundreds during his career so far. The focus is a nod to his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. Correcting a heart’s blood flow and electrical impulses allows him to solve what is essentially a complex engineering problem while saving a life.
He also has deep experience with implantable loop recorders. These long-term monitoring devices help cardiologists investigate whether a patient’s stroke or fainting episode was due to cardiac arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm) or an overly fast or slow heartbeat.
Beyond the hands-on side of cardiology, Dr. Pokharel has a passion for educating patients about heart disease prevention. Weight. Cholesterol. Exercise. Diet. All of these factor into heart health. He likes to emphasize that treating the body well can not only inhibit disease but ensure people have a more enjoyable retirement. They can explore new places, visit loved ones, and enjoy a range of hobbies, rather than spend all their time in a hospital.
“I think working in cardiology has taught me to be humble,” he says. “No one is immune from a heart attack or stroke. Being able to work on preventing those things from happening and live a healthy life is what cardiology is all about.”
Dr. Pokharel makes sure to take his own advice to heart, hitting the gym twice a week and getting outside to hike, snowshoe, and kayak whenever he can. When he’s not getting his own heart rate up he volunteers at his kids’ schools, helping with a Science Olympiad team and tutoring students in math and science. While students are often scared of these subjects, they are the gateway to great careers and opportunities. His goal is to help relieve students’ anxiety, just like he does for his patients.
“If we can help them get that fear out of the way they can do anything they want,” he says.
It’s a fact that’s true both for kids and many cardiology patients. And if anyone is up to the challenge of calming people’s nerves, it’s Dr. Pokharel.