‘I’d love to do clinical work in India…’
“India has many rare and tropical diseases which I would never be able to see firsthand in Canada.”
“I love India for its culture, beauty and soap operas.”
At an age when youngsters of her age are still indecisive about their goals and career, Sapna Shah has already charted her way to success. An aspiring to be a physician, Sapna will soon commence her medical education at the University of Ottawa this September. At 16, Sapna became a summer research student at McGill University; she designed a microencapsulated yeast column and tested its feasibility in removing urea during kidney failure. Her research has been published; she was recognized as a Top 20 Under 20 in 2010 and is this year’s winner of the ICCC Young Achiever of the Year Award.
During her undergraduate education at Queen’s University, Sapna was the founding vice-president of the Doctors Without Borders chapter on campus and the chair of the Crohn’s and Colitis committee. Locally, she has been a volunteer at Markham-Stouffville hospital and an active voice on the Markham Mayor’s Youth Task Force. Moreover, her fluency in English, Spanish, Hindi and Gujarati enables her to travel around the world. In conversation with Generation Next, the Montreal-born youth icon talks about her inspiration and dreams of serving the South Asian community.
1. Tell us something about you family academics. Who inspired you to be in the field of medical research?
I come from a family of professionals. My parents both attended McGill University. My father is a Chartered Accountant, currently working for Canada Revenue Agency and my mom has a Masters and is a high school chemistry teacher. I am going to be the 21st physician in my extended family so I am always surrounded by many inspiring physicians. My mom is the driving force behind my passion for medical research; she was a researcher for many years before she decided to change careers and would often tell me stories of how things are done in the lab. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to conduct medical research at a young age and was able to see for myself how exciting research can be!
2. How does it feel to be nominated for the award? Did you expect that?
I feel humbled to win this award in a nation with so many amazing Indian youth. I did not expect to win this award but this award strengthens my aspirations and encourages me to go further with my education. I am grateful that ICCC has recognized my hard work and determination and I hope that in the near future, as a physician, I can help the South Asian community.
3. You recently traveled to Ecuador and taught street children. How was the experience? Tell us more about the program.
I absolutely fell in love with Ecuador and hope to practice medicine in South America for some part of my career. I loved the culture, the people and most importantly, the language. I was inspired to pursue a Spanish minor in my undergrad because of the wonderful exposure I had to the language. My trip also opened my eyes to all the things that I take for granted; for example, many kids as old as five years of age, did not know how to use soap to wash their hands because they were homeless and never had the luxury of purchasing soap! As a volunteer, I taught English and Math to the street children who worked in the markets and did not go to school. However, I think I learned way more from them than I was able to teach them; they taught me the importance of determination, passion and having a positive attitude.
4. You are a Canadian of Indian origin. Any future plans to pursue research in countries like India?
I was born in Montreal but am very Indian at heart. I love India for its culture, beauty and soap operas! If given an opportunity to work in India, I’d love to do so. However, rather than pursuing research in a lab there, I would love to take part in clinical work because India has many rare and tropical diseases which I would never be able to see firsthand in Canada. Medical tourism is a growing industry in India because foreigners are becoming increasingly comfortable with Indian doctors and they have good reason to be! Indian doctors are very adaptive to the situation and to new technologies, they have no language barriers and the immense competition in India makes their drive for excellence stronger.
5. What do you do when you are not studying?
In my spare time, I love to bake, watch TV and go on bike rides! I also love to volunteer at the hospital and tutor. I love to teach all kinds of subjects and hope to incorporate that in my career. I also love to travel, whenever I have a few weeks off, I always try to squeeze a vacation in and of course, India is my favourite destination!
7. Was medicine always your first choice of career? What other options did you want to pursue?
I always wanted to pursue a career in the sciences but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a physician or researcher. Even as a physician, I hope that I can continue to work in a lab because research is a form of healing behind the scenes.
8. What’s your vision for the next 10 years?
I am currently pursuing an MD degree at University of Ottawa and will graduate in 4 years. During this time, I hope to explore as many specialties as possible so that I can find my niche. After completing my residency, I hope to work as a physician and a scientist! Throughout this time, I hope to continue volunteering and traveling abroad.