How one biomedical sciences student is on the road to health advocacy.
Sadia Mehmood remembers the day, hour and exact minute when she received the President’s Entrance Scholarships in 2014. “It was one of the most life changing moments for me,” she says, now in her fifth year of biomedical sciences. “I immediately burst into tears on the phone, just because I was overwhelmed. Ryerson was already the first choice for me, but this really sealed the deal!”
The President’s Entrance Scholarships at Ryerson are granted to students who demonstrate academic accomplishment and leadership qualities. “In high school I used to work a lot of hours,” she explains. “Even trying to do sports, it was very tricky to be balancing everything. [The scholarship] provided security. I knew I could dabble in different interests once I came to university, without having to worry so much about finances.”
For Sadia, pursuing an education and profession in the medical field meant social change, moving beyond the standard patient-provider relationship towards health equity. At an early age, she had experienced first-hand the effects of Canada’s health-care system and understood the importance of it being inclusive and patient-focused.
“Growing up in a family where one of my parents has a mental illness and disability, it gives a little bit of background in what other people are going through. I really witnessed how powerful the healthcare team can be for the most vulnerable communities; in populations that are traditionally excluded, or marginalized,” she reveals. “I’d like to work as a primary healthcare physician, and I’d like to do this because I feel it places you in an ideal position to advocate for people.”
Ryerson’s biomedical sciences program focuses on cell function and related health issues, such as disease, diagnosis and advancements in treatments. The program, part of the recently established Faculty of Science, has a co-op option, giving students workplace opportunities at neighbouring hospitals and research centres in Toronto. “Ryerson was my number one choice. I was attracted to the fact that it is downtown, but also choosing biomed here I was attracted to the fact that we have world class hospitals just down the street in proximity. So, I knew I wanted to do some work there, whether it was volunteering or working on projects.” Along with her major, Sadia is undertaking two minors in sociology and psychology to help provide better understanding of the leading social factors causing health disparities.
Sadia’s classes have given her a lens into the complexity of a disease and impact on a patient. “One of my favourite classes so far has been the Cancer Biology course I took in my fourth year. This was an amazing class, taught by Nikolina Radulovich – she’s a cancer researcher at Princess Margaret. I remember in every lecture I had goosebumps hearing her speak,” she recalls. “She balanced it very well with the humanity of this illness and reality of it as well. It was one of those breathtaking courses, when I was actually in it, it really struck me.” In the last two years, Sadia has completed summer internships as a research student at Mount Sinai Hospital and published two first-author papers on diabetes, with the assistance of her mentor and supervisor.
Sadia’s time at Ryerson has involved more than just academic research. She has also balanced her time with a number of on-campus initiatives. She was one of the first members of the Ryerson Science Society, a student union group which offers tutoring and campus services to all students in the different streams of the faculty. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had here I feel, because I stayed part of it for three years and we really grew it. We were the first team that was elected, we had the first multi-day orientation. We established things like the science lounge with the printer in it,” says Sadia. “We even passed a referendum to ensure the sustainability for the student group and over the next several years. It was one of the most memorable things to have happened at Ryerson.”
Sadia has also co-founded Health Out Loud, a non-profit and student-led organization aimed at improving health literacy, while integrating community support. After meeting with her peers and learning they shared similar interests of social responsibility, Sadia knew she belonged at Ryerson. “By having been involved in student groups and having a position on campus, that has enhanced my experience at Ryerson by so much. It was the first time I felt I belonged in a community.” A community she says has made a positive influence on her undergraduate journey. “You grow a network, and you meet upper year students you can network with. And you feel happier, and I believe when you feel happier you perform a lot better as well.”