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Grad Profiles ‑ Celebrating the Class of 2022
It’s a special time of year at Dalhousie—convocation. It symbolizes both a beginning and an end. A celebration of one’s time as a student, and a time to acknowledge the great potential to demonstrate the skills acquired during training. It’s a time to say goodbye to years as an undergraduate student and look ahead to exciting new opportunities.
Another graduating class will soon have earned the right to be called ‘doctor.’ They will go forth with what they have learned in medical school and apply it to the patients they encounter, first in residency, and then in their own clinics and emergency rooms. All 112 graduates from the class of 2022 will celebrate, in person, on May 24. Their individual stories are the culmination of years of hard work and experiences. Here are a just a few of the graduates making us proud.
After years of hard work and preparation, first year medical students often encounter an unfamiliar feeling — one of inadequacy. Described as ‘imposter syndrome,’ after years of achieving at the highest levels, students suddenly start to feel like a very small fish in a very big pond. Surrounded by other high-achieving peers and lofty expectations, questions begin to creep in about whether or not they truly deserve to be there.
For Class of 2022 medical school graduate, Lauren Miller, these troubling feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy began during her undergraduate collegiate basketball career at Acadia University. Like many other high-performance athletes — though not often talked about — the high-pressure environment and associated performance anxiety had a negative effect on her mental health. Years later while in medical school, this would retrospectively spark a personal and professional journey in learning to accept her imperfections, and helping others do the same along the way.
“Being a perfectionist is utterly exhausting,” says Lauren. “The moment I leaned into the fact that I was (and always would be) imperfect and a work in progress, it felt like a huge weight was lifted from me. ‘Failures’ no longer feel like attacks on my identity and my self worth and I am now able to see them as learning opportunities and a chance to grow. The ability to be compassionate with yourself is absolutely a game changer.”
Once in medical school, Lauren quickly identified a major issue facing physicians and students: burnout. “It was extremely disheartening to hear the proportion of physicians experiencing burnout, poor job satisfaction, depression, and suicide — and this was before the pandemic hit,” says Lauren.
As a result, she and her colleague, Claire Bullock, co-created an inter-professional education mini course titled ‘Battling the Burnout Epidemic’ to address some of these issues. While it was a tremendous amount of work to build, reading students’ post-course reflections hammered home the importance of what they were doing, and that it really was making a difference in peoples’ lives. This experience reinforced her passion to advocate for people to learn to feel safe in addressing their mental health, and to help break down the stigmas that prevent so many from accessing necessary care.
During one of the countless COVID-19 lockdowns, and with encouragement from her partner Annie, Lauren redirected her newfound self-compassionate mindset and put her thoughts to page in the form of a blog, The Recovering Perfectionist.
By laying bare her own vulnerabilities and struggles with mental health — and the subsequent work she has done to address them — Laurn has not only found a therapeutic outlet for herself, but national recognition. In April of this year, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published her blog post, The Fallacy of Perfection.
“It is extremely gratifying to know that my thoughts resonated so much with others that they found their way to a national audience,” says Lauren. “Whenever I start to worry that I might be revealing something too personal, I remind myself that this is the very thing which makes it so relatable.”
Having left her mark at Dalhousie Medical School, Lauren’s future is bright; she will undoubtedly continue to foster a healthier, more compassionate, and wellness-centred culture of medicine wherever she goes.
“I cannot tell you how much this shift in my mindset has changed the way I think and live,” says Lauren. “I hope I can continue to help others do the same.”
Now matched to a psychiatry residency in Halifax, Lauren is excited for the next chapter of her life with Annie. Though she is currently undecided on a psychiatry speciality, for now, Lauren is focused on being present in the moment, and ready for whatever comes next.
Eye on the prize: From children’s books to ophthalmology residency, Freddy Lee’s journey to medicine
Freddy Lee was raised in a family with no background in medicine, so his very early interest in the human body came as a surprise to his parents. While most youngsters devoured fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Freddy read about digestion and the content of our blood. Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Halifax, Freddy was drawn to medicine from an early fascination about the human body to treat diseases and the desire to work with people to improve their health and to make an impact on their lives.
“For me, there was never an epiphany kind of moment,” he recalls. “But it was really a gradual and conscious decision to pursue this long, long journey of medicine.” Freddy completed a master’s degree in neuroscience before entering medical school, eager to apply what he had learned to patient care.
With a strong commitment to student leadership, Freddy excelled during his training. He held the titles of President of the Dalhousie Medical Students’ Society and Class of 2022 co-president, was the recipient of various awards, including the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students Leadership Award, and also developed several initiatives aimed at easing some of the burden associated with COVID-19.
With the arrival of the pandemic came the closure of public schools and daycares across the province. As the demand for healthcare professionals increased, so too did the need for childcare for these frontline workers. Spearheaded by Freddy and fellow medical students, Clara Long, Margaret Sun, and Kristin Ko, a childcare program run by student volunteers from the allied health programs helped alleviate this pressure.
“We were not able to be involved in patient care as medical students, but we wanted to contribute in meaningful ways at this difficult time. Fortunately, we had many amazing volunteers who really made this possible.”
Childcare was not the only issue that Freddy knew needed addressing during the pandemic.
“As the COVID-19 outbreak developed, there was growing concern that the availability of alcoholic beverages could become unreliable as provincial liquor stores threatened to close, as seen in other provinces,” says Freddy. “People with severe alcohol dependence were particularly vulnerable to acute adverse effects of withdrawal, chronic health consequences, poor mental health, and social exclusion.”
Working with Dr. Leah Genge—lead physician at Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH)—and other Canadian managed alcohol program sites, they developed an emergency managed alcohol program at MOSH aimed at preventing and reducing harms of unsafe alcohol use, including drinking non-beverage alcohol, binge drinking, and unsafe alcohol consumption. The program focused on stabilizing patients with severe alcohol-use disorder and reinforced social isolation to reduce the risk of spread of infection. As the pandemic persisted, the program shifted from a scattered site model to a centralized community program which is ongoing and now managed by MOSH.
Much has happened since Freddy Lee walked through the doors of the Tupper Building to begin his medical training in 2018. When he walks across the stage of the Rebecca Cohn on May 24, he will be eyeing the next leg of his journey—residency in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science here at Dalhousie.
“I was drawn to ophthalmology by the patients,” he says. “I loved working with this patient population, and I realized that restoring and optimizing vision for patients makes a huge tangible impact on how people interact with the world and loved ones. Being able to have a hand in providing this kind of care is incredibly gratifying.”
Freddy plans on becoming a comprehensive ophthalmologist and hopes to engage in medical education through continued connection with the medical school.
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Tammy Selman learned from a young age the impact, barriers, and benefits of language. Whether it was through her initiation of the French Simulated Patient event, or acting as an interpreter for Syrian refugees, the Class of 2022 co-president did her best to improve access to care for non-English speaking patients.
Always curious about many different fields of study, Tammy found herself enrolled in Dalhousie’s highly competitive Medical Sciences Program, designed to prepare students for a profession in the health fields. For Tammy, it allowed her to explore medicine and other clinical and academic opportunities in science and the medical humanities, while also pursuing research in fields that impact and inform the medical sciences, and to do so with a group of like-minded students.
“The best part was being with a group who shared similar goals and motivations, who worked to empower each other,” says Tammy. “My cohort impacted my plans to work in a clinical environment and emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary work. My undergrad taught me that there is not just one clear path to medicine. Medicine is intersectional and is most successful when approached with this with collaborative spirit in mind.”
And collaborate she did. With other students, physicians, and with patients, Tammy demonstrated the true meaning of teamwork and communication. Having attended francophone school as a child, and with a French linguist mother, Tammy was well equipped to lead the French in Medicine interest group in medical school. It was through this work that she learned of the challenges faced by francophone populations across Canada when accessing healthcare.
“When we are in anxiety inducing situations, such as feeling sick or seeking care, we tend to revert to our primary language,” she explains. “It is important for patients to understand their healthcare providers and for healthcare providers to make sure that their patient feels understood.”
Mindful of the large Acadian and francophone population in Nova Scotia, Tammy worked with Réseau Santé, a group that brings together key stakeholders from the health sector and community to improve access to health services in French for Acadians and Francophones in the province. They developed booklets containing medical terms in both English and French to provide to medical students. They also initiated the first French Simulated Patient OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) event at a non-French medical school, providing francophone students the opportunity to practice speaking to patients in French, and allowing students that do not speak French the chance to work with interpreters and develop skills to engage with non-English speaking patients. Through her involvement with the undergraduate curriculum refresh committee, Tammy was able to recommend that more opportunities to learn about those with language barriers and healthcare access be added to the curriculum.
“Language not only serves as a communicative tool, but is a vital part of culture,” says Tammy, whose first language is Arabic and knows firsthand the challenges faced by those whose native tongue is not English. When she has not been immersed in her medical studies she volunteers as an Arabic interpreter for Syrian refugees, further motivating her work on the French Simulated Patient program.
“When there is a language barrier it may impact understanding of proposed treatments. It is important for physicians to learn how to work with patients that do not speak English as their primary language.”
Tammy will enter her residency here at Dalhousie in July, focused on plastic and reconstructive surgery and is keen to explore different opportunities for subspecialty training in the field. Ever the patient advocate, Tammy was drawn to plastic surgery after witnessing patients’ quality of life and function improve post-operatively. “The first time I saw tears of joy from a patient in hospital was during my plastic surgery rotation,” she recalls. “The Plastic Surgery team at the QEII and Saint John Regional Hospital is world renowned. I am excited to be joining a dedicated and innovative team that works to improve patient outcomes.”
Tiffany’s interest in medicine was inspired by the unlikeliest of things: an operation her mom had on her nose following a horse accident. After that, Tiffany started watching videos of surgeries on YouTube all the time and it wasn’t until a career aptitude test in high school told her that she would be a good fit in healthcare that she started to think seriously about medical school.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I could actually do that!’” Tiffany says of that first spark of realization. “Then, when I interviewed community members for the 2019 Census and I saw how the act of storytelling can also be a form of medicine, I knew this was for me.”
Born in the small community of Hamtown Corner just outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Tiffany’s family is from Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik First Nation, an urban community in North-Eastern Turtle Island (Canada) that lies on the Wolastoq (St. John River). She is currently living in Fredericton and will be completing her residency in family medicine there, surrounded by family, friends, and her community.
“I am excited to be working in the hospital I was born in, and that my loved ones have been born in and passed on in,” Tiffany shares. “It holds a lot of meaning for me to practice here.” She chose family medicine for the opportunities it affords her to practice a broad scope of medicine and incorporate her culture into her care of Indigenous patients both in Fredericton and in rural and remote communities in Canada and abroad.
Over her fours years at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Tiffany learned how to integrate her personal and cultural experience into her medical education. She played a key role in the evolution and success the now-biannual Doctor for a Day at DMNB initiative, which invites interested middle-to-high school-age Indigenous students to learn more about the medical school experience. As one of the student leads, Tiffany was involved in the planning and execution of these events since they first began in March 2019 and dedicated numerous hours of her free time to develop and facilitate them.
“It felt like a chance to develop integrity within my professional identity as an Indigenous woman in medicine and give back to my community,” Tiffany says of her with Doctor for a Day at DMNB. “If I could provide that same moment of realization for these students that I had – that they, too, could pursue medicine – then that would mean the world to me.”
Building on her work with this event, Tiffany’s Research in Medicine (RIM) project focused on creating a culturally safe framework for those wanting to conduct research in collaboration with Indigenous communities. “I wanted to give back to my school by helping to foster a trusting relationship between this institution, the communities of this territory, and the physicians who will be working here,” she says. To accomplish this, Tiffany invoked the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing introduced by Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall, which is learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing. Or, in brief: “Through the strengths of two worlds to find the best solution.”
Tiffany most certainly brought the strengths of two worlds to her medical school journey and leaves behind a legacy of inclusion and belonging at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick.
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