Categorized | Feature, Interviews

Combining Medicine and Advocacy: Jemy Joseph

Posted on 08 March 2012 by admin

In the little more than a decade that Jemy Joseph has been in Canada, she has already achieved a lot. The current medical student at the University of Ottawa and MA student at the University of Toronto in heart transplant immunology has an ambitious mission for herself and her adopted country. The award-winning activist turned scholar spoke to Generation next about bullying, her medical school career and where she would want to be in the coming years. You are a young woman of many achievements enough to even compete for the Rhodes scholarships not long ago. That is a rare achievement for someone who has only been in the country for just over a decade. tell us about your academic journey so far? It’s been such a blessing to be in Canada for the past 11 years and to be privileged to study here! My parents immigrated to Canada in order to provide my brother and me with the best education, and I am fortunate to have had this chance. I completed an Honors B.Sc. at University of Toronto Scarborough (subjects: Neuroscience, Psychology and Biology – basically, a general life sciences degree).  Subsequently I pursued a research-based Masters at University of Toronto in heart trans-plant immunology, working in collaboration with Toronto General Hospital. In fall of 2011, I began my degree in medicine at the University of Ottawa. Yes, I have been in school for a long time! You have often said you en-vision “a career that will hopefully combine medicine, advocacy, research, healthcare, policy development, administration and politics.” Please explain?

Growing up, I unfortunately thought I was only good at one thing – sciences. Thinking logically and analytically came to me so naturally that I didn’t’ even consider a career outside o f anything science-related.  As such I pursued life sciences in undergrad. My love for sciences led me to do re-search in health-related topics, which I was passionate about.  Though researchers are never fully acknowledged for the work they do, I gained gratification in knowing that my small contributions are part of a greater effort to understand the basic mechanisms of diseases, and to eventually discover cures.  After taking undergraduate electives in health studies/medical anthropology, I took a step back from the molecular world and started to see healthcare from a broader perspective: I was intrigued by how many determinants and social factors affected one’s health and well-being. This is where my interest in public health began. However, it was my extra-curricular involvement that surprised me in terms of what I am capable of outside of the scientific world. I was dragged by my peers to join the Student Union and various other organizations. Here, it became evident that being an advocate, discussing policies and administrative work were things I absolutely enjoyed — I loved the challenges it provided! Working with both student and university governance really opened my eyes to the ‘politics’ behind decision-making and how this was just a microcosm of larger political institutions that govern our cities, provinces and country. My undergrad exposure was just the beginning of my exploration in politics. During the course of my Masters, being part of institutions like Massey College and participating in public health seminars opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and provided me with mentors (such as Bruce Alexander) who really helped me realize that I could be a part of transforming Canada and making it a better place for my generation and the future. I fully realized that Canada IS the ‘land of opportunities’ and you can aim for the highest goals, and you have a shot at it! In this country, it is okay to have multiple interests and pursue them all! It was such an exhilarating feeling to discover that!

That’s where medicine came in as a career. Why medicine? I realized that I wanted to a career where I can continue to foster my scientific and medical interests, while contributing to improving the health and well-being of the Canadian and global society. Being an advocate, promoting public health, engaging in social issues and making contributions globally were all important to me.  After very deep soul-searching, prayers, and consultation with wonderful mentors, medicine emerged as a wonderful ‘next step’ where I can be fully engaged clinically and pursue my varied interests After just four months in medical school, I am realizing every day how dire the need is for more doctors to step up as advocates to improve society, and I am so glad I am on this path. It is beyond my imaginations and I am humbled to eventually be a part of this profession. Now that you have lived in Canada for a decade, where would you want to be in another decade? Given that I have chosen medicine as a career, most of the next decade will be consumed by med school followed by residency. During the course of this path, I have many dreams and hopes, which includes doing some international work in medical fields in developing countries, working with NGOs and health organizations, engaging in health advocacy and hopefully promoting and protecting public health in Canada. Once I have completed my medical education, I hope to begin my career in Canada, working as a doctor while engaging with the government as well.  And some-where along the way, I would love to have a family! You have won many awards and scholarships over the years. The Pioneers Youth award is the most recent. What do these awards mean to you? These awards have truly been a humbling experience– I am amazed that I get selected especially given the caliber of recipients who have preceded me. Being acknowledged has given me more encouragement to continue the work I do.  These awards are also a reflection of the many wonderful people God gave me in my life – who invested so much time and energy to help me grow and develop. These are my parents, teachers, friends, mentors — the list is very long! The New Pioneers Award (NPA) was unlike any other award I have received, as it focused on the immigrant experience and conquering challenging circumstances –not just about achieving high grades or a list of achievements. It was an important experience because until I went through the award process, it was not easy to publicly talk about my initial experiences in Canada – the good, the bad and the ugly. It allowed me to open up and encourage others with my own life story. You have recently sup-ported the Ontario government’s effort to bring in a new anti – bullying legislation – why is this piece of legislation important? Oh, thank heavens for that legislation – it is never too late to strengthen the battle against bullying! The scars that are bullying can leave behind on a child / adolescent / teenager can affect the rest of their lives in conscious or unconscious ways. The impact on their mental (and physical) health can be drastic. There-fore it is necessary to work towards prevention of such actions and adequate punishment and counseling for those who engage in such destructive behavior. In Canadian society, respect for human life and well-being is a cornerstone value and youth must be taught that. For young immigrants who may be going through the journey you went through in 2000 as a new immigrant to Canada, what advice would you have for them? If you come from more traditional or conservative cultures, you might have some initial difficulty in under-standing the culture and values of this land. All I can tell you is to take time to understand the Canadian culture and people .Combine the best of what you learn with the best of what you gained from you previous country and you will have an enriching life! Don’t be afraid to try something new – like skating or exploring outside the big cities! (Speaking of which, I still need to learn how to skate! Rideau Canal, it is!) To help you adjust, there are many resources in places like Employment Centers, Youth Centers, and Community Centers etc. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and ask for help. Finally, Canada is a land of opportunities!  In this country, you can be who you want to be. So don’t be your own barrier. Open up your mind to a world of possibilities because in Canada, the world is in your backyard!

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