BY GARY THANDI
Dr. Jason Hitkari is co-founder and co-director of Olive Fertility Centre, which has locations in Vancouver and Surrey. Olive Fertility Centre is one of Canada’s leading IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) and fertility centers with among the highest pregnancy rates in Canada. Dr. Hitkari is also a Clinical Associate Professor at UBC and the current President of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology and Society (CFAS) for 2020-2021.
“I was very interested in women’s health when I was in medical school,” Dr. Hitkari explains. “So I decided to do an Obstetrics and Gynecology residency to be an Obstetrician. It was while I was training that I became interested in infertility care.”
Dr. Hitkari has been practicing in this specialized field for about 15 years. “I’ve met many doctors along the way that have inspired me,” he notes, “probably too many to mention – doctors doing their best, caring earnestly about people.” Dr. Hitkari received his medical degree from the University of British Columbia, did a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology, UBC, and subsequently subspecialty training in infertility care at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “Fertility treatments were a relatively new science with rapid advances and I thought that was very exciting to be a part of” he recalls. “And I also liked that with fertility care there was more time spent with patients compared with other medical scenarios. There was time to understand where patients were coming from and then help educate them on their situation and their options.”
In 2013, Dr. Hitkari co-founded Olive Fertility Centre, where he continues as Co-Director. Olive Fertility Centre has decades of experience, a state-of-the-art laboratory facility, personalized care, and advanced fertility treatments. It includes IVF, Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT-A), and egg freezing.
“The vision that we had for this clinic was two-fold,” Dr. Hitkari explains. “One was that it was going to be patient-centered. We really try and live and breathe the idea that we put the patient at the center of care. Every decision that we make about how we provide our care is focused on how it will affect the patient – not only their physical experience but their emotional experience as well.”
“And the second thing we wanted to do was to make it as high-tech a center as possible. When we’re doing the more advanced treatments, like IVF and egg freezing, where we rely on a group of experts in managing eggs and sperm and embryos, how good the lab is absolutely critical to providing care. If, for example, a laboratory is not following protocols or doesn’t have advanced technology, you will see a reduction in the success rates.”
Since our inception, we still embrace new technologies and new ways of doing things, and we wanted to kind of marry those two ideas together: excellent patient care and excellent top-notch technology.”
“Normally, people get referred to us,” he explains. “They usually will go into their family doctor’s office and receive a referral. Sometimes patients have seen a Gynecologist or a Urologist. Depending upon the patient’s history and testing, we determine what the best path forward is. This could be simple treatments like medications or sometimes people need surgery, or maybe they need In Vitro fertilization and more advanced technologies. So, we provide the whole gamut of fertility care.”
“By far, the most common thing we see is that people are often waiting a little too long to start their families. It’s not fair, but for the most part, as men get older, they continue to make sperm and actually generally stay quite fertile. But for women, as they get older, into their late 30s, early 40s, their chances of getting pregnant and staying pregnant are lower. There are other factors too—people have medical conditions, don’t have sperm, or their Fallopian tubes are blocked, but age is really a big part of what we see. We have been talking about the impact that age has on fertility for so long now that I really think that the general population is starting to really pay attention to that. If you are entering your mid-30s and you’re not really sure where your family life is going, you could consider the option of freezing your eggs.”
“And about a third of the time it is actually male factor fertility – male infertility is becoming common – so it is essential we do the analysis on both males and females. That way we have a very constructive and thorough visit where you can explore all the factors and receive the best advice. We go through all options so that patients understand the pros and cons of each of these options.”
In addition to his work at Olive Fertility Centre, Dr. Hitkari teaches and lectures extensively on topics related to reproductive and infertility education for medical students and practicing physicians and surgeons. He is also an examiner in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. “Education is vital to me,” he advises. “I had great mentors I came across through my training, and I want to be that for other people. So, I teach the medical students about fertility, and I guide their curriculum and teach them about how to guide their patients in the future, and to make sure that the patients they see in the future are given the right information and support.” Dr. Hitkari has received the UBC Medical Undergraduate Class of 2012 and Class of 2014 Outstanding Educator Awards and is the recipient of the H. Hill Humanitarian Award for Exceptional Patient Care.
In his role as President of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology and Society (CFAS) for 2020-2021, he leads “the national organization that represents the people that provide fertility care. So, all the doctors, nurses, lab people, and counselors involved in fertility care are generally members of this national organization. I was on the Board of Directors for about four years or so, and then was nominated to be President, and it’s a huge honor.” Dr. Hitkari also served as a board member for the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada and is a member of a multi-disciplinary group advocating for the provincial government to fund treatment for those struggling with infertility. “The testing that people undergo is covered by MSP,” he explains. “The consultation either with a Gynecologist or a fertility doctor is covered. Where it is not covered is when you start having to do treatments. And that’s unfortunate.”
Dr. Hitkari recognizes that many of his patients will explore additional safe options to address their health care needs. “We work very closely with practitioners of various types of medicine to help provide a more holistic approach to patient care,” he explains. “Some patients are not interested in that. Some are skeptical of anything other than Western medicine, and that’s fine—but most people are somewhat interested in improving their lifestyle and reducing their stress and in that case working with other practitioners makes sense.”
“Not everybody can become pregnant, and that’s just life and biology,” Dr. Hitkari stresses, “but they should be hopeful, and the field is improving, year after year, and people should just continue to be hopeful.”