Our Campus//

Dr. Scott Ramsay shapes the future of concussion care

When Dr. Scott Ramsay was 19 years old, he wasn’t in the hospital as a medical resident — but as a family member supporting his younger brother with stage 4 lymphoma.

“I spent the night at the hospital at VGH and all of a sudden, [my brother] started getting nauseous and ended up vomiting. The nurse runs in and gives me heck because I’m holding this little … cardboard tray that you can vomit into,” Ramsay said. “And she’s like, ‘You can’t touch that. It’s cytotoxic, there’s chemo drugs.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know any better.’ I’m this 19-year-old jock hockey player who was just trying to help him out.”

At the time, Ramsay was in transition from playing hockey to thinking about a career as a doctor or physiotherapist. But it was that experience with his brother that shaped Ramsay into the person and pediatric nurse he is today.

Ramsay’s brother unfortunately passed away in 2011.

“My mom told me after he passed away that he had told her that he thought I would make a great nurse,” said Ramsay. “That was the push over the edge that I needed to go into nursing.”

“If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be a nurse.”

Turning lived experiences into research

When Ramsay was a child, he dreamed of playing in the NHL — “hockey was my real first love.”

He remembered being around five years old, watching the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Mario Lemieux play on TV and falling in love with how cerebral the game was.

“The tactical aspects of playing a team sport and trying to think ahead of your opponent is what really drew me to hockey,” he said. “I was never the most skilled person on my team or playing against other teams, but if I could out-think someone to get an advantage then I really enjoyed those aspects of it.”

Ramsay continued to play up through BC junior hockey, being known as ‘Rammer’ to his teammates and friends. At 19, he made it to the Anaheim Ducks’s training camp.

But after sustaining his third concussion in 13 months, and fifth concussion in total, that NHL dream came to a close.

“A few of my buddies still call me [Rammer],” he said. “But now it's Scott or Dr. Ramsay. It's weird and [I’m] getting used to not being called Rammer all the time.”

Next to his love of hockey growing up was Ramsay’s interest in science. He said he had a knack for it and even took grade 12 biology twice — the second time just for fun.

Ramsay began his bachelor of science at UBC with plans to become a doctor, but switched to a bachelor of science in nursing at the University of Fraser Valley in 2012 after his hospital experience with his brother.

“I recognized that it was the nurses who did a lot of the care — physical, mental, emotional, social care — with patients and that was more so who I was as a person than being a physician,” he said.

After three years, he earned his registered nurse license and started working at BC Children’s Hospital. There, he started to notice he was getting calls from parents whose children had sustained concussions months prior and lacked follow-up care after their initial diagnosis.

“After hearing the nth one, I’m like, ‘Is there something here in terms of the care that we’re providing — or not providing in this case — that could be preventing these children from having these debilitating neurological sequelae?’”

He was already enrolled in a master of science in nursing at UBCO, but the thought of a research question continued to intrigue him, so he switched to UBC’s School of Nursing.

In 2018, Ramsay started his PhD dissertation on concussion after-care in BC youth, looking at health outcomes after initial diagnoses.

Overseeing the largest study on youth concussion care, Ramsay has rightfully gotten a lot of attention from major media outlets for his work. But he remains humble, keeping the focus on the research and the work being done in youth concussion care.

“I hope … we do recognize that a concussion is a brain injury, and it can have long-lasting impacts,” said Ramsay. “I hope that eventually we have parent services through clinics, and health care personnel that want to look after them, [so] that they can get the care that they need and deserve.”

‘Children just want to be children’

Today, Ramsay continues to clinically practice in pediatrics. He finds working with kids very rewarding.

“To me, it’s night and day difference getting to work with the pediatric population in the sense that children just want to be children,” he said. He recalled making kids smile with something as simple as an orange popsicle.

“What's important to them is vastly different than what's important to us as adults.”

Through pediatrics, Ramsay found another calling — family-centred care.

“I think the thing that a lot of people don’t recognize though is when you look after a child, you’re also looking after their family,” he said.

Family-centred care refers to a medical philosophy that maintains that the person who’s sick isn’t the only person affected — the family is also a key part of the care, alongside medical staff.

“[It’s] making sure that you have everyone’s perspective and that there’s no one less important in that situation,” Ramsay said.

Family-centred care leads to more positive patient outcomes. For Ramsay, that’s because there’s greater collaboration, which leads to more informed decisions for each unique patient and their situation.

“When we can appreciate people’s perspectives and where they come from in the knowledge that they bring to conversations, it opens up a lot of doors.”

Bringing work into the classroom

Ramsay earned his PhD from UBC in November 2023 and is now an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. This past winter term, he taught NURS 346, the theoretical perspectives of nursing for infants, children and their families.

He uses his current clinical experience to shape nursing philosophies and practices for his students in a more tangible way.

“I always joke that sometimes we have people who have been out of practice for so long, they don't know what practice is like anymore,” he said.

“I think when you have someone who's knowledgeable in the day-to-day of experiencing health care and can relate to you, but also bring that knowledge and experience to a classroom, it just makes for a more engaged learning.”

Teaching has also given Ramsay more of an opportunity to mentor future nurses.

“It’s always nice to have people that can help and support you in your nursing journey,” he said. “I’d love to be that person for our people as they progress and they want to do pediatrics.”

Mentorship isn’t new to Ramsay. In both his undergrad and graduate years, he was a peer mentor for other Indigenous students. For Ramsay, who is Métis, being an Indigenous person who was raised assimilated to Canadian culture puts him “in a place of power and privilege.”

“If you can make a situation [easier] or help someone else along their way so that they have — especially as an Indigenous nursing student — a little bit less weight to bear, I think it’s totally worthwhile.”

“I feel like it is almost paying it back because so many people helped me along the way to help me achieve where I’m at,” he said.

Moving forward, Ramsay plans to keep working on concussion research because there’s still “lots of work to do” to prevent and properly care for pediatric concussions. But he also hopes to continue in pediatrics — being a nurse and helping people is at the core of who he is.