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Celebrating the Class of 2024

Posted by Kate Rogers on May 28, 2024 in News
Graduates from the Dalhousie Medical School Class of 2023 (clockwise from top left): Aditi Sivakumar, Andrew Trasolini, Joel Richard, and Qëndresa Sahiti. (Photos: Nick Pearce and provided)
Graduates from the Dalhousie Medical School Class of 2023 (clockwise from top left): Aditi Sivakumar, Andrew Trasolini, Joel Richard, and Qëndresa Sahiti. (Photos: Nick Pearce and provided)

Another year has passed, and it is time once again, to celebrate here at Dalhousie. Convocation is a time to honour triumphs, while appreciating the anticipation for the pathways yet to unfold. It stands as a tribute to the dedication and scholarly evolution amassed over the years. This moment marks the farewell to years spent as an undergraduate student and paves the way for future training and careers.

Soon, another graduating class will join the distinguished ranks of those deserving the esteemed title of 'doctor.' Armed with the knowledge acquired during their medical school journey, they will venture into the realm of patient care, initially through residencies and subsequently in their own medical practices and medical departments. The class of 2024 came together today, May 28, to celebrate this momentous occasion in person. Each graduate's unique story represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.  

Here are just a few of the graduates making us proud.

Advocacy and action: Aditi Sivakumar’s journey of empowerment and impact 

Aditi Sivakumar can vividly recall the moment her advocacy work became something grander than she could have ever imagined. 

She was sitting across from Prince William at Kensington Palace in London, UK, having a rather candid discussion about what was next for her.

The then 20-year-old had received a special invitation to London from the Prince of Wales and the Diana Award, a charity established in memory of Princess Diana that honours young people who work to improve the lives of others.

Aditi, who was recognized for her development of wellness kits and resource booklets for women facing gender-based violence and youth facing homelessness in her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, remembers she explained to Prince William she was thinking of a career in medicine. But when it came to her continued advocacy work, Aditi was uncertain. 

“I really had never thought about doing something more” she recalls. “I thought this resource booklet and these packages were it and he [Prince William] just told me to think bigger and dream bigger, and that he felt like I could do something big and anything that he could do to help, he was more than willing.”  

Wasting no time, on the plane back to Canada, Aditi took Prince William’s advice, and began to conceptualize her charity, My Empowerment Platform

Launching soon after the beginning of the global pandemic and based almost entirely online, the charity was designed to provide support to women and girls facing violence during the pandemic and beyond. Using digital technologies, web applications, and animations, My Empowerment Platform expands upon Aditi’s existing resources to reach users on a national scale. 

Aditi’s passion to improve the health and well-being of underserved women and help those facing gender-based violence was ignited during a volunteer position at a domestic violence shelter. Faced with the realization that it was a prominent issue in her community, she knew she had to help.

“When I got to the shelter, I just knew this was going to be my niche—this is the change that I wanted to make,” she says. “I really wanted to look at what I could do to end gender-based violence.” 

With this goal in mind, Aditi was driven to a career in medicine, which would provide the opportunity for her to continue her advocacy work and strive to make a difference on both a local, national and international scale. 

Since she began medical school, Aditi has spearheaded impactful projects in medicine, including creating a colposcopy pamphlet for HPV and cervical cancer patients, which was accepted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority. She also developed a sexual and reproductive health animation, which has been translated into 10 languages and presented at national conferences. And more recently, she led the creation of a birth unit video funded by She Decides, providing crucial information to diverse populations, which will be translated into 11 languages before its launch.

In the last four years, Aditi and her My Empowerment Platform have partnered with Canada’s Walk of Fame and Loreal Paris, allowing the project to expand and thrive. Thanks to the support of Canada’s Walk of Fame, Aditi was able to select 13 charities nationwide, one in each province or territory and each slightly different, to receive funding and wellness supports. 

After founding her charity, Aditi became the first board vice-chair across the world under the age of 30 for the World Health Organization's Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, the world's largest alliance committed to protecting and advocating for the health, well-being and rights of women, children and adolescents.

“It’s been an honour to be a part of a group that involves so many prominent individuals while learning how to expand advocacy initiatives and programming on an international scale,” she says. “And now the fact that I get to go and travel to international meetings, and my input gets taken into consideration, has been really special for me.”

Her position as board vice-chair is not the only recognition she has received for her work. In 2020 she received the Canada’s Walk of Fame Community Hero Award, which recognizes an exceptional Canadian under 30 who positively influences the lives of others and makes a profound impact on their communities and beyond. In addition to a ten thousand dollar donation to her charity, Aditi has received incredible support from the Canada Walk of Fame leadership team in her continued pursuit to end gender-based violence. 

“They're always willing to help—whether it's funding, an initiative, mentorship, and when I came up with the idea for the 13 charities, they were fully on board,” she recalls. “They've really helped me grow as an advocate and elevated my mission and goals.”

With all she has accomplished, it’s hard to believe Aditi found time to complete her medical studies. She’s off to the University of Toronto in July to begin her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, a path that she had been thinking of but was reaffirmed by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Dalhousie with their mentorship and continued support of her advocacy work. In fact, Aditi remarks that her decision to come to Dalhousie is the best she could have made. 

“I don't think I would have been the same personally or professionally,” she says. “As a medical student, thanks to this institution, I found the best mentors and the best support system. And although I'm leaving, I'm excited to continue a lot of the relationships that I have made at Dalhousie well into the future.”

Aditi is unsure what that future holds beyond residency, but she recently received some encouragement from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. In January she was invited by The Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, as the youngest guest to attend a State Dinner. During a conversation with Mr. Trudeau, Aditi was encouraged to keep a career in politics in mind in the future, and though it was something she had never considered, it gave her food for thought. 

“Maybe it’s not so far-fetched to think somewhere down the line I could be the Minister of Women and Children,” she says. “So, I haven’t closed the door on politics, and I don’t know what the future holds, but I do hope that I can continue my advocacy work on a national and international scale, combining it with my passion in medicine.”

Humanity in medicine: Andrew Trasolini’s passion for people propels him into a career in family medicine

Andrew Trasolini has always thrived on personal connections. 

He flourished in collaborative, people-focused environments, and became adept at relationship building, a skill he utilized with his hematologist when he was diagnosed with a chronic blood disorder at 14-years-old. The relationship he formed with his physician was so impactful, it would later lead him to pursue medicine himself.

His decision to become a physician, however, didn’t happen until many years later. When his diagnosis prevented him from playing sports, he became involved in music and theatre, where he learned communication skills and creativity. He found the arts provided an outlet where he could use his voice for good and he soon became interested in advocacy, which led to his pursuit of a Master’s in Public Health and Health Promotion, and his eventual application to medical school.

As a medical student, Andrew felt energized by his family medicine rotations and the opportunities he had to form connections with patients. 

“The therapeutic relationship formed with patients in vulnerable moments is a privilege, and family medicine permits a foundation of trust to be established,” he says. “Each day in family medicine clinic was an example of the humanity in medicine.”

He was drawn to the variety of acute and chronic conditions, the breadth of cases, the invigorating pace, and the flexibility to try new things that family medicine provided. With a significant shortage of family doctors in the country, compounded with an aging population, evolving landscape of complex conditions, and increased wait times in emergency departments and walk-in clinics, Andrew felt motivated to be part of the solution. 

“Now, more than ever, I believe that family doctors in primary care are essential for challenging the ever-growing demand on the Canadian healthcare system,” he says. “Ultimately, as family doctors are the cornerstone of patients’ overall care journey, I see their role in the future continuing to adapt to fit patient needs.”  

Andrew will begin his residency in family medicine at the University of Toronto this summer, a field he hopes his passion for people and experience as a pediatric patient will allow him to have a unique lens to create lasting connections with patients of all ages, backgrounds, and identities.

Andrew’s leadership and drive to connect were essential to his class, who began their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. As class vice president, Euphoria! co-chair, and a member of the social committee, he organized inclusive events such as orientation week, Med Ball, holiday activities, and post-exam celebrations, so his classmates had the opportunity to create community outside the classroom. In recognition of his efforts, he was presented with the Graham Creighton Award in 2021, awarded to a student who has contributed most to the spirit of their class at Dalhousie Medicine, and in 2022, the Wood-Stonehouse Memorial Award given to a student who has significantly contributed to student and academic life at Dalhousie Medicine.

Not only was Andrew heavily involved in the social aspects of medical school, but he also used his interest in advocacy to take on leadership roles such as the Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee (GAAC) Lead. He formed a student committee that researched healthcare gaps and on the Provincial Day of Action, he presented to Members of the Legislative Assembly on possible solutions. He was also able to participate in the National Day of Action in Ottawa where he received advocacy training and met with Members of Parliament to empower policy change. His work with the GAAC further fueled his interest in family medicine and healthcare delivery.

“I learned the importance of collaborative leadership, and incorporating the voices of those we were advocating on behalf of,” he says. “This was formative in my approach to healthcare delivery in family medicine where I will have the unique opportunity to advocate for my own patients in the future.”   

In residency and his future career, Andrew is excited to serve a diverse group of patients. As member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, he is aware of the unique healthcare challenges this population often faces. He hopes to address these challenges and other inequities causing barriers in accessing care in his career as a family physician.    

“I hope to complete extra training in this area to fully understand how best to serve 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and become involved in medical school curriculum teaching on many of these topics,” he says. “I hope to contribute to a system that prioritizes vulnerable populations, disrupts systemic barriers and improves the overall healthcare experiences for people from all walks of life.”   

As Andrew embarks on his residency, he carries with him a vision of healthcare that transcends boundaries, embraces diversity, and places the patient at the heart of every decision. His story serves as a reminder that setbacks are not roadblocks but catalysts for growth. His childhood diagnosis, while challenging, guided him toward unexpected avenues of discovery and purpose, and he’s now poised to make a difference in the lives of the patients he serves, just as his doctor once did for him.

Shooting for the stars: Joel Richard's journey to become an astronaut ignites his passion for medicine

Not unlike many other children, Joel Richard dreamed of being an astronaut.  

Few, however, continue that dream and apply to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Fewer still, rank in the top 6.25 per cent of applicants.  

Joel applied to the CSA during their 2017 recruitment campaign. When that didn’t pan out, he researched what a successful candidate would look like. He quickly learned that Canada had a significant number of engineer-doctors in their corps. Having received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of New Brunswick in 2007, and an existing curiosity about medicine, Joel began studying for the MCAT. While he kept his dream to be an astronaut alive, it soon became evident that he was deeply intrigued by a career as a physician.  

“I began reading medical articles, and self-studying for the MCAT,” he recalls. “Turns out, I loved the underlying science! The human body is an intricate and wonderfully complex machine.”  

Fueled by this new love, he spent two years completing more formal MCAT training, while working full time as an engineer, never losing sight of his dream of space travel.  

"When I wrote the test and it was a good result, I thought, “I'm going to go for it,” everything's lined up,” he recalls. “Let's see if I can make this work and get into med school.”

Fast forward more than four years, and Joel has a medical degree in hand. His background in engineering, where he spent 13 years, has translated into his work as a physician. As an engineer, he was passionate about leveraging applied science to solve real-world problems for his clients. With medicine, he is excited to be following a similar process, though in a very different context, by leveraging medical science to improve patient care.  

“Engineering cultivated a systems mindset that translates well to medicine,” says Joel. “Working directly with diverse clients in my former career gave me comfort in working closely with people, even under stress.”

And there was certainly no lack of stress over the last few years. Joel is part of a graduating class that spent nearly the entire first year of medical school, and a significant portion of the second year online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making an already stressful time, even more so.  

With a passion for mental health, and desire to ease the burden on his classmates, Joel worked hard to organize online events like virtual coffee shops and study groups to foster camaraderie among his peers. It’s no surprise that he was elected by them to be the Student Affairs Wellness Liaison (SAWL), a person who could be approached to work with students who find Student Affairs intimidating.  

While completing his medical studies, Joel was accepted in the Canadian Armed Forces Medical Officer Training Plan (MOTP), while also juggling perhaps his most challenging, yet fulfilling, role yet—fatherhood. He welcomed his second child in his second year of studies. And though his sleep was limited, and his time stretched, his family and children gave him the drive to persevere.  

“Balance was incredibly illusive during medical school,” says Joel. “Being a mature learner, military officer, husband, and active dad is an alchemy of warring responsibilities. Throw a pandemic in the mix, and you have yourself a wild ride. When I was tired or felt overwhelmed, my kids gave me context and perspective to the struggle of med school.”

Joel will begin his residency in the Department of Family Medicine at Dalhousie in his hometown of Fredericton through the MOTP.  

And although he’s traded his dream of becoming an astronaut in for the equally important role of father and husband, the possibility of making a significant impact in his hometown could very well propel him towards celestial heights.

“Matching close to home was my top priority to keep community ties strong for me, my wife, and our two children,” he says. “I’m over-the-moon at the prospect of delivering patient care in a community that I love.”

From fear to thriving: Qëndresa Sahiti's journey to medicine

Qëndresa Sahiti always possessed a fervent desire to understand the world around her, especially when it came to the mind and body. With a fear of doctors, however, a career in medicine was not in the cards. 

A native of Prishtina, Kosovo, and former refugee, Qëndresa came to Canada at six-years-old. Having to spend considerable time in hospitals while watching her younger brother's battle with a genetic illness, she inevitably developed a fear of both doctors and medicine, feeling powerless as she witnessed her brother undergo treatment.

She opted to follow a research path, studying neuroscience at Dalhousie, planning to make a career of discovery. It wasn’t until late in her undergraduate training that she began feeling something was missing. 

“I found myself missing the element of human connection in research and wanted a career in which I could have a more direct clinical impact through medicine,” she recalls. “I shadowed rural family physician Dr. Ryve Loshaj and her deep connections with her patients and community solidified my interest in pursuing medicine.” 

By reframing her childhood experiences as opportunities to help others and finding empowerment in her ability to make a difference, she enrolled in medical school, determined to make her future patients and their families feel supported.

As a medical student Qëndresa utilized her research experience, publishing and presenting research in trauma and antecedents to mental illness, medical education and the learning environment, and the intersection of art and science. She championed marginalized communities through the Walk in Our Shoes Foot Clinic and held leadership roles in non-profits like the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. She was recognized with several awards for her work including the 3M National Student Fellowship, the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership, and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award for Medical Students. Her Research in Medicine (RIM) project, that investigated resident mistreatment, earned her the Research in Medicine Award, and has been published in influential medical education journals and featured on CBC. 

Understanding the demands of medical school, Qëndresa contributed to the development of Thriving Together, a workshop series born out of a desire to foster a culture of support, cohesion, and collegiality among classmates. 

“It takes a lot of hard work to get to medical school, and some people start their training expecting an environment of fierce competition instead of collegiality,” says Qëndresa. “This not only creates a miserable social environment, but also negatively contributes to individual and collective performance, which then trickles down to the quality of care that we provide.”

Together with her classmates, Qëndresa hosts annual peer-led workshops with the first-year medical students that examine these expectations and allow classmates to openly discuss how they can support one another throughout their training. 

“It’s our hope that by setting the tone for a culture of respect and inclusion right from the beginning, we can continue to foster positive relationships that contribute to personal and academic success.” 

Qëndresa will begin her residency in the Department of Psychiatry here at Dalhousie in July. With so much mystery around the brain remaining in medicine, she is excited by the potential for discovery, as well as building connections with her patients.

“Psychiatry is exciting because we can have a therapeutic effect just by virtue of the relationship between the patient and provider, she says. “We look at medicine through a holistic lens that considers a patient’s social and psychological factors in addition to the biological. It’s very rewarding to be able to advocate for this vulnerable population group.”

And that is not the only vulnerable group Qëndresa hopes to support. Having lived experience as a refugee, Qëndresa has a particular interest in newcomer health. She says improving newcomer health requires better access to primary care, interpretation services, and culturally sensitive care. Social integration and financial support are also crucial for addressing health disparities, as well as the often neglected, newcomer mental health. 

“Newcomers from areas of war and conflict, or those who face familial separation and long roads to immigration, may not bear physical scars of their journeys, but are certainly vulnerable to mental health trauma,” says Qëndresa. “I’m looking forward to learning about how to better support these groups throughout my residency, and I hope to continue working with these populations as a staff physician.”   

Qëndresa has come a long way from a fearful newcomer to a confident advocate for health equity, serving as an important reminder of the transformative power of resilience, empathy, and the unwavering commitment to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for all patients.