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Custom program developed for Health Science leaders

Health Sciences Leadership Series

A program designed to improve the leadership capabilities and communication skills of Health Sciences faculty members.

Visit the Faculty of Health Sciences website to register.

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Health Sciences faculty members spend years training for their roles as educators, researchers and scholars. In many cases, though, there aren'™t the same opportunities to develop specific skills required for their administrative and managerial duties.

The Office of Faculty Development in the Faculty of Health Sciences aims to change that by collaborating with the Human Resources Department on a new management development program. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will launch this September with the first cohort of 30 participants completing six full-day sessions throughout 2014-15.

"This program is modelled after one that myself and a number of other faculty had the opportunity to take several years ago," says Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education, Faculty of Health Sciences. "In retrospect, the content has proven to be highly relevant and practical. The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development."

Human Resources designed the program specifically for Health Sciences faculty members. The material will cover challenges, situations and conflicts they will encounter in their day-to-day work. Dr. Sanfilippo says participants will gain a deeper understanding of their leadership capabilities, expand their communication skills, enhance their project management skills, and improve their ability to build relationships both within and outside their department.

The Health Sciences Leadership Series will be invaluable to any faculty members charged with administrative responsibilities or curricular development.

Tony Sanfilippo, Associate Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences.

With the Health Sciences Leadership Series, Queen's Human Resources Department continues to expand its leadership development programming. The department has offered a similar program for non-academic managers since 2009.

"œWe are excited to partner with the Faculty of Health Sciences to extend this valuable leadership training to their faculty members," says Al Orth, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources. "We are hopeful that the positive outcomes of this series will result in opportunities to work with other faculties on similar programs in the future."

The series has the added benefit of meeting the accreditation criteria for two professional organizations. It is an accredited group learning activity for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The program also meets the accreditation criteria of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

Online registration is now open with the first session slated to take place Sept. 16. More information is available on the Faculty of Health Sciences website or by contacting Shannon Hill, Learning Development Specialist, Human Resources, at ext. 74175.
 

Renewable energy and reconciliation

Queen’s researcher receives CIHR grant for interdisciplinary research program on Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development.

Queen’s University researcher Heather Castleden (Geography and Planning/ Public Health Sciences) has received a $2 million team grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to lead an interdisciplinary research program on Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development for healthy communities.

Dr. Castleden hopes that the project will bring to light new and restored understandings of integrative health by sharing our stories, resources, and tools with Indigenous and Settler governments, industries, ENGOs, universities, and beyond. (Photo Credit: Jon Aarssen)

The program of research, titled A SHARED Future: Achieving Strength, Health, and Autonomy through Renewable Energy Development for the Future, will bring together more than 75 Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, as well as representatives from various Indigenous and settler governments and organizations across Canada, to examine how fostering Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development has the potential to deliver positive community benefits and spur efforts towards reconciliation.

“Much of my research has involved a Two-Eyed Seeing framework – something I learned from Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshal and his colleague, Cheryl Bartlett, who is a retired biologist and former Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science,” explains Dr. Castleden, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities. “The guiding principle of Two-Eyed Seeing is to bring the best of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to try to answer research questions more comprehensively and whole-istically.”

Through this program of research involving multiple projects, Dr. Castleden and her colleagues will examine stories of success in renewable energy development. Amongst other criteria, the research will determine whether Indigenous communities, governments, and organizations are using a business-as-usual model, a joint venture model, a co-operative, or an Indigenous leadership model in their collaborations. The team will also examine how these efforts have the potential to lead towards new and restored understandings for integrative health by reconciling and healing relations between the Indigenous and settler communities, as well as the relationship with the environment.

“For the past 15 years, Dr. Castleden has partnered with Indigenous communities across Canada in conducting community-based, participatory research on issues such as social and environmental justice and health equity,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “This project will not only bring about a better understanding of the impacts of renewable energy development on Indigenous communities, it will also foster a deeper understanding of the requirements necessary to overcome barriers that address relationships and support for Indigenous populations and their communities,  in order for Canadians to pursue meaning reconciliation.”

Indigenous Ways of Knowing will play a central role throughout the design of the program and its various projects, in conceptualizing the team’s research approach, organization and methodology. Dr. Castleden explains that doing so allows the research team to consider issues in a broader and more whole-istic nature. She adds that Indigenous leadership and efforts towards self-determination and autonomy have led to broader inclusion of Indigenous perspectives and knowledge in academic research.

“We have been trained in academia to specialize in our fields, which makes it very difficult to see a problem from multiple generations back or forward, to translate from the individual to the community and beyond – that’s where Indigenous knowledge systems bring the breadth of the issue to light,” she says. “This is especially true with health research. There is, with many Indigenous knowledge systems, the ability to see health issues as being not just about physical health or mental health but also emotional health, cultural and spiritual health and well-being of people. We don’t tend to do that in Western science, so again that’s what makes this make sense.”

Dr. Castleden and her team are one of nine team grants to receive funding under the CIHR Environments and Health Signature Initiatives program. The program aims to support researchers and teams investigating how various sectors can collaborate to promote healthy environments and reduce exposure to the causes of poor health.

For more information on the A SHARED Future project, please visit the HECLab website.

Improving the lives of critical care patients

Queen’s researcher takes on a leading role in innovative ICU recovery study.

For patients who survive an episode of critical illness, they can experience weakness and other limitations to their function long after they’ve left the hospital. But there’s hope in sight: A unique, multi-site clinical trial that aims to improve outcomes for intensive care unit patients using a combination of early nutritional supplementation and exercise. The trial is set to begin, with researchers from Queen’s University playing a leading role in the study’s operations.

Dr. Heyland and his team at the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit will design and manage the study protocol, taking place in ICU's across the United States.

The Nutrition and Exercise in Critical Illness (NEXIS) trial will take place in four ICUs across the United States and run through March 2022. Principal investigators are Daren Heyland of Queen’s University, Dale Needham of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Renee Stapleton of the University of Vermont. The study will examine whether intravenous amino acid supplementation and the in-bed cycling exercise improves recovery for patients requiring life support from a mechanical ventilator in the ICU.

“This collaboration represents one of the first trials of a combined nutrition and exercise strategy in critically ill patients to aid in their recovery,” says Dr. Heyland, who also serves as the director of the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre. “The combination of our respective expertise in nutrition and rehabilitative medicine in critical care settings allows us to bring the best of the two worlds together.”

Patients taking part in the study will receive an intravenous infusion of amino acids in addition to their standard nutrient intake – targeting 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day – and will conduct 45 minutes of cycling exercise five days per week. The study will randomly assign patients into two groups – one will receive the novel combined study intervention, while the other receives standard ICU care. Recovery will be measured using the six-minute walk distance (6WMD) test at hospital discharge as well as many other measures of body composition, muscle strength and physical functioning during patients’ hospital stay. The researchers will conduct phone-based follow-up calls six months after discharge to evaluate lasting benefits of the study intervention.

“ICU patients experience accelerated muscle wasting, believed to be related to the role of the inflammatory response in critical illness,” says Dr. Stapleton, an associate professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. “The consensus is that standard ICU nutrition practice is protein-deficient, typically providing only 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, and that this may play a part in muscle wasting.”

As one of the world’s leading multicentre clinical research methods centres, the CERU at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre will be responsible for the development of study procedures and day-to-day coordination of the study. Dr. Heyland, who serves as clinical director of CERU says that the centre’s unique level of expertise in coordinating intensive care nutritional studies will strengthen the study’s ability to examine this new course of treatment.

“What has evolved in critical care medicine is a realization that more and more people are experiencing, and surviving, critical illness,” says Dr. Heyland. “We have a large number of survivors of critical illness who, in addition to muscle weakness and impaired physical functioning, can also suffer from such conditions as depression and anxiety, as well as cognitive impairments following release from the intensive care unit. These impairments can have long-lasting health impacts for both the surviving patient and their family members. This study will play an important role in improving the physical outcomes for ICU survivors.”

The research conducted during the NEXIS project is supported by a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on the NEXIS trial, please visit the website.

New research into pre-eclampsia

Queen’s doctor works on new process to prevent or treat pre-eclampsia.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has recognized a promising new treatment for pre-eclampsia being developed by Queen’s University researcher Graeme Smith. Dr. Smith recently received a $198,942 Catalyst Grant which will help advance his research.

“The only treatment we have for pre-eclampsia right now is delivery which often leads to premature births and that just isn’t a solution,” says Dr. Smith (Obstetrics and Gynecology). “Treatments using different types of medications have not been successful.”

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder in pregnancy characterized by the onset of high blood pressure. The disease affects two to eight per cent of pregnancies worldwide and is one of the most common causes of death due to pregnancy and it increases the risk of poor outcomes for both mother and baby.

Dr. Smith and his team are researching increasing the normal production of carbon monoxide in humans as well as external exposure to low doses of carbon monoxide in pregnancy. Studies have shown the gas is an important substance that, at low concentrations, plays an role in the health of pregnant and non-pregnant humans.

Carbon monoxide could provide the key to improving the blood flow between mother and baby to help prevent or treat pre-eclampsia.

“We have different approaches to try to determine if this will work including turning on or turning up the carbon dioxide production in our bodies or using a drug treatment to increase carbon monoxide in pregnant mothers,” says Dr. Smith. “There is still a long way to go as we have to prove this is safe but we are taking solid first steps.”

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines. Queen’s University is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

Scholars receive prestigious national chairs

Three Queen’s researchers receive Canada Research Chairs from Government of Canada.

An internationally-renowned chemist who has reshaped the field, Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) has been named the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry.

Arriving at Queen’s in 2002 as a Queen’s National Scholar, Dr. Crudden’s research investigates the interaction of organic compounds with metals in the synthesis of novel materials and for the development of highly active catalysts. Her work has widespread applications in pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and agriculture – a testament to the depth and breadth of her research.

Dr. Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) has been named the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry. She is joined by Dr. Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering) and Dr. Mohammad Zulkernine (Computing, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Reliability and Security) who saw their Canada Research Chairs renewed.

Dr. Crudden’s work in the field of organic chemistry has been lauded as revolutionary and has allowed for the synthesis of compounds previously thought impossible. In recent years, she has published nearly 100 papers in high-impact journals, and her research has been cited nearly 3,000 times. Committed to training the next generation of leading multidisciplinary researchers, she has also supervised 20 doctoral candidates, 19 master’s candidates and 31 postdoctoral fellows – many of whom have taken positions in research and industry.

“This grant will let me spend more time on research while still having the pleasure of teaching Queen’s undergraduates,” says Dr. Crudden. “Our research program has also become very international lately and this research chair will allow me to set aside time to visit collaborators in the U.S., Finland, Scotland, Japan and the rest of Canada.” 

Two other Queen’s researchers have seen their Canada Research Chairs renewed. Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) has been renewed as the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering, while Mohammad Zulkernine (Computing) has been renewed as the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Reliability and Security.

“The CRC program allows Queen’s to attract top-calibre researchers, to provide them with the tools to succeed, and to make Canada an international leader in research and development,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “Queen’s researchers, including the three CRC recipients announced today, are at the forefront of their fields, conducting research that addresses some of the most challenging and complex problems in science, with potential to have a global impact.”

Dr. Davies’ research focuses on how a protein’s structure enables it to carry out its purpose and how the function of a protein can be changed by altering its structure. His research has numerous potential applications in healthcare and biotechnology.

“I am delighted to have the support of the Canada Research Chair program for another seven years,” Dr. Davies says. “This renewal is a vote of confidence for the research we have been doing in recent years, and it will allow my group to branch out into a new area. We have recently become involved in the study of adhesin proteins that bacteria use to form biofilms and infect various hosts. By studying and engineering these proteins we hope to interfere with their infectivity.”

As technology becomes a larger aspect of our day-to-day lives, security and reliability are of paramount concern. Dr. Zulkernine’s research is focused on addressing these issues at different stages of the development cycle, in order to better protect the next generation of mobile and cloud computing environments.

“This award actually belongs to my current and former graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have worked hard with me to achieve my research goals,” says Dr. Zulkernine. “I am also thankful to my collaborators in the School of Computing, Queen's, and industry partners for their continuous support. This award will attract more high quality students and world renowned software security and reliability researchers to our Queen's Reliable Software Technology (QRST) research group.”

Queen’s will receive $200,000 per year over seven years for each Tier 1 Chair and $100,000 per year over five years for each Tier 2 Chair.

The Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program is at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development since 2000. The CRC program invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Canadian universities both nominate Canada Research Chairs and administer their funds.

For more information on the Canada Research Chairs program, please visit the website.

Queen’s researchers lead the way in numerous fields, with notable advances made recently in particle astrophysics, cancer research, ecological history and environmental change, and clean energy technology. Through leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines. Queen’s University is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

The heart of the matter

Queen’s researcher Amer Johri brings unique technology to Science Rendezvous.

A main focus of Science Rendezvous has always been the hands-on experience – being able to touch, experience and do.

This year’s Heart and Stroke booth promises visitors a unique experience thanks to Amer Johri and his ultrasound machine.

Using volunteer student models, Dr. Johri, a Queen’s University professor,  cardiologist and ultrasound specialist, will be scanning and explaining the different parts of the human heart.

“I really want to explain how the human heart works and how to keep it healthy,” says Dr. Johri, a clinician scientist in the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute. “What better way than to use a real person and a real heart? It will also give kids an opportunity to learn more about ultrasound so they aren’t scared of the technology. We are really just taking a photograph of your heart.”

Each year, Queen’s partners with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to engage the public in an event promoting heart health. A number of Queen’s researchers, including Dr. Johri, receive funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Last year, after attending the event last year with his son, he wanted to participate in providing other children exposure to science.  He and his lab are all volunteering in 2017.

 “The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides critical funding,” says Dr. Johri, “and Science Rendezvous provides a unique opportunity to explain our research in a public forum. It’s also a team bonding experience for everyone that works in our lab – we have a group of interesting and dynamic researchers that are doing amazing work.”

Dr. Johri is the director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen’s (CINQ). The goal of the network is to position CINQ as the central node in a global network, working to translate novel cardiovascular imaging and treatment technologies into clinical practice. Some of Dr. Johri’s main research focuses are 3D echocardiography and early stage heart disease detection.

The 10th annual Science Rendezvous Kingston 2017 runs Saturday, May 13 from 10 am to 3 pm at the Rogers K-ROCK Centre. Admission is free.

Unique technology

Queen’s University professor recognized for innovation in medical education.

Sanjay Sharma, a professor of ophthalmology and epidemiology at Queen’s University, has received the John Ruedy Award for Innovation in Medical Education from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada.

Dr. Sharma was recognized for spearheading the development of MEDSKL, a free, open-access platform for medical students that uses video to deliver clinical education from leading physicians around the world. MEDSKL was designed for medical school students and practicing physicians to learn and review the fundamentals of clinical medicine.

“Being a doctor requires the ability to apply knowledge and theory in often unpredictable circumstances. Yet today’s medical students still receive their core education primarily through textbooks and lecture halls. Students need earlier access to clinical knowledge and case studies that bring the fundamental aspects of practicing medicine to life,” says Dr. Sharma.

The John Ruedy Award, named after the former Dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recognizes physicians who have developed innovative digital or materials that support undergraduate, postgraduate, or continuing medical education.

“Queen’s University and the School of Medicine are proud to recognize Dr. Sharma for the work he’s done in innovating medical education,” says Dean Richard Reznick. “His contributions will provide students with yet another opportunity to enhance their medical training.”

When starting his medical career, Dr. Sharma says he chose Queen’s for his residency due to the amount of surgery performed, which fit his interests perfectly. He arrived at Queen’s in 1991 and has continued to work to change the care and treatment of patients with eye conditions ever since.

“In 2007 eye injections using new medicines were proven to have remarkable benefits in patients with wet macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease and other retinal conditions,” says Dr. Sharma. “To achieve these benefits, frequent eye injections called intravitreal injections are often required. Through our work at Hotel Dieu Hospital we realized that one of the barriers to quality health care was easy access to a clinic where these procedures are provided.”

To address these location issues, Dr. Sharma opened his first part-time intravitreal clinic in Belleville in 2011. After positive feedback, he opened a number of new clinics in Brockville, Smiths Falls and Port Hope. He always does the first assessment of patients at his Hotel Dieu clinic but is now able to provide injections at four different sites.

“In the clinics we feature some of the best young medical minds in the country, including medical students, residents and fellows,” says Dr. Sharma.

It’s this interest in students and their education that led Dr. Sharma to present a new way for medical students to learn. He created the open access website Medskl.com, which features more than 100 TED talk-style on dozens of clinical topics, from general surgery to public health and the legal and ethical aspects of medicine. Each learning module includes a two-minute whiteboard presentation, a 15-minute lecture and a 1,000 word written document.

The award will be presented at the end of April at the 2017 Canadian Conference on Medical Education, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines. Queen’s University is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

Examining the mind

Queen’s researchers Doug Munoz, DJ Cook, Ron Levy, and Steve Scott (Centre for Neuroscience Studies) have received a three-year, $857,062 grant from Brain Canada’s Multi-Investigator Research Initiative with financial support from Health Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund. The project will study how Alzheimer ’s disease affects the brain and to devise new therapeutic strategies for slowing the progression of the disease.

(From L-R) Drs. DJ Cook, Doug Munoz and Ron Levy, (as well as Dr. Steve Scott, not pictured) have received a three-year grant from Brain Canada to examine new therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer's disease.

“This project stems from collaboration between our team and Dr. Fernanda De Felice, a leader in the study of Alzheimer’s disease from Rio de Janerio,” explains Dr. Munoz. “Her team has developed a way to create what looks like Alzheimer’s-like pathology in tissue cultures. Our project represents the evolution of this research and brings with it exciting new opportunities for Alzheimer’s research - including the potential for us to test therapeutics that may improve quality of life for patients and slow the progression of the disease.”

The team will use amyloid-beta oligomers – amino acid peptides that are a main component of the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients – to mimic several attributes of the disease and its progression. Their study will also explore using trophic – growth-promoting – molecules and electrical stimulation to promote regrowth and plasticity of affected cells.

“The study proposed by Dr. Munoz and his colleagues at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies has the potential to lead to tremendous breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s University. “As the population demographics continue to shift and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia increases, projects such as this will help us better understand and manage this disease. Queen’s is proud to support field-leading health research, such as this Brain Canada-funded project.”

An estimated quarter of a million Canadians have a diagnosis of dementia – a group of disorders affecting brain function, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form. The disease leads to a decline in memory, communication, reasoning and emotional control, and has a tremendous impact on patients, families and the health care system as a whole. Dr. Munoz says he is hopeful that the project will lead to the development of new treatments that can alleviate the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and improve quality of life for patients with the disease.

“If you have an older patient with a brain that is no longer working the way it used to, you won’t be able to reverse it back to the time when that brain was young and healthy,” explains Dr. Munoz. “What we aim to do, on the other hand, is to develop treatments that could allow the brain to work around the disease – alleviating some of the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s for the patient.”

The Brain Canada Multi-Investigator Research Initiative grant supports research that will “fundamentally change our understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction and its impact on health.” The grant aims to encourage and support research that will reduce the social and economic burden of neurological and mental health problems by developing means to prevent disease, diagnose disease earlier or to improve treatment.

The Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s is a  leading hub for research and scholarship in all facets of neuroscience.The Centre’s mission includes furthering the understanding of brain organization and function, as well as enhancing societal neurological and mental health, with emphasis upon improving the quality of life for those affected by neurological and psychiatric diseases.

Tackling youth concussions

Queen's outreach initiative provides on and off-field training for youth football players.

  • A youth football player learns how to approach a tackle safely to minimize injury risk, during on-field CESAP training. Allen Champagne (MSc'17) (in the white hoodie) offers technique coaching as the player prepares to go through the drill.
    A youth football player learns how to approach a tackle safely to minimize injury risk, during on-field CESAP training. Allen Champagne (MSc'17) (in the white hoodie) offers technique coaching as the player prepares to go through the drill.
  • Trevor Morley (Meds'17), right, explains to parents and coaches the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
    Trevor Morley (Meds'17), right, explains to parents and coaches the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
  • Chris Griffiths (Meds'18) explains the mechanism of injury behind concussion to a group of Thousand Islands Minor Football League coaches and parents.
    Chris Griffiths (Meds'18) explains the mechanism of injury behind concussion to a group of Thousand Islands Minor Football League coaches and parents.

On Saturday, April 22, representatives of the Concussion Education Safety and Awareness Program (CESAP) took part in the Thousand Islands Minor Football League community day at Kingston's Caraco Field. The organization, led by Queen's neuroscience and medical students, held off-field seminars for parents and coaches, providing information on concussions in sport. The presentation covered topics including how concussions occur, signs and symptoms and return-to-play protocols – all designed to ensure that players who suffer concussions receive appropriate treatment for their injuries.

While the parents took in the presentation, current and former Queen's Gaels football players took the participants through a series of drills aimed at improving their technique and minimizing injury risk. The players ran routes, practiced safe tackling and received on-the-spot guidance to improve their skills and play the game they love as safely as possible.

Started by Queen's neuroscience student Allen Champagne (MSc'17), CESAP aims to empower athletes and their parents to improve player safety through education and behaviour modification.

Indspire Award winner embraces personal journey

University often offers young people more than just a degree. For Thomas Dymond, currently a first-year medical student at Queen’s, post-secondary education has been a journey of self-discovery.

“It wasn’t until I got to Memorial University for my undergraduate degree that I started getting to know about my culture. I jumped over that barrier of not being sure how I fit being an Aboriginal person in modern society,” says Mr. Dymond, who recently accepted an Indspire Award, the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its achievers.

[Thomas Dymond]
Indspire recently recognized first-year medical student Thomas Dymond for his significant volunteer work and his advocacy for Indigenous students. 

Mr. Dymond is Mi’kmaq from the Bear River First Nation in Nova Scotia. He lived off reserve growing up and didn’t learn a lot about his Aboriginal culture from his mother and relatives.

“Even though my grandfather didn’t attend a residential school, the system definitely impacted the way he felt he should share knowledge with his children and grandchildren,” Mr. Dymond says. “Given his own background and the racism he experienced, my grandfather never really forced our family to self-identify.”

Despite having minimal affiliation with the culture, Mr. Dymond says he always felt an Aboriginal presence inside of him growing up. When he moved to Newfoundland to attend Memorial University, he started to get more in touch with his Aboriginal identity.

However, as someone with mixed ancestry – his father is white – Mr. Dymond felt he faced another barrier to expressing his Aboriginal identity.

“I wanted to get involved, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received. I worried about walking in and being the whitest looking person in the room. I thought about how I was going to be received by other Indigenous students in the room,” he says. “Once I overcame all of that, it just sparked something in me. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to do more, and I wanted to get involved more.”

[Thomas Dymond accepts the Indspire Award]
Thomas Dymond accepted his Indspire Award on March 24 from Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. (Photo courtesy of Indspire)

Mr. Dymond was elected the Aboriginal student representative on the Student’s Union at Memorial University, a position he held for three years. He advocated for Indigenous students on campus, and also got involved in national campaigns such as Sisters in Spirit, which raises awareness about violence against Aboriginal women and girls, and Education is a Right, which seeks to increase financial support for Indigenous post-secondary students.

Mr. Dymond also got involved with a number of initiatives across the university and in the local community. He co-founded the Wape’k Mui’n drum group and facilitated events such as sharing circles. He sat on the board of the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre for two years as the youth representative. As a member of the board, he voiced the needs and desires of Aboriginal youth in the community, which helped shape planning and policy within the friendship centre.

“I have gone from a level of trying to be educated and to learn more about my culture to this point where people turn to me for knowledge.”
-- Thomas Dymond 

Reflecting on his volunteer and community work, Mr. Dymond can’t pinpoint one activity that he is most proud of.

“I do things because I have a passion and I am driven to do them. Everything along that path has led me to where I am today. All of those experiences have made me who I am,” he says. “I find it interesting that I have gone from a level of trying to be educated and to learn more about my culture to this point where people turn to me for knowledge.”

New beginnings, new challenges

After years of contributing to the university and broader community in St. John’s, Mr. Dymond found himself navigating a new and unfamiliar environment last fall after arriving at Queen’s to pursue his medical degree. When he came to campus for his School of Medicine admission interview, he visited Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and walked through the building on Barrie Street. Mr. Dymond said he received a warm welcome from the staff at FDASC, which made him feel comfortable going there.

Mr. Dymond admits that there was an adjustment period coming to Queen’s. It took him a while to get comfortable with the other medical students and the Aboriginal community on campus. Furthermore, the demands of medical school meant that he couldn’t attend as many events or get as involved as he had been at Memorial University.

Expanding access to Queen’s for Indigenous youth
The Faculty of Health Sciences has joined with the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science to expand the pool of qualified Indigenous applicants. Learn more about Ann Deer, Indigenous Access and Recruitment Coordinator, on the Queen’s Law website.
Improving access to Queen’s programs for Indigenous youth is one of the recommendations contained in the final report of the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force. Read the full report and learn more about task force and its membership.

Over the past few months, though, Mr. Dymond feels he has come out of his shell, opening up about who he is and where he comes from.

“The more comfortable I’ve gotten with the people I am surrounded by now, the new community, the more I’ve been open and able to share my knowledge, understanding, and perspective on a lot of things,” he says. “And that’s really what it’s all about: I have a perspective as one person, and it’s nice that I am being heard.”

Having the opportunity to share that perspective with Aboriginal youth is what excites him the most about the Indspire Award. As part of the honour, Mr. Dymond will visit several different cities across Canada and deliver his message to other Indigenous youth: “stay in school and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”

“If you had asked me five years ago, I never thought I would have been here. It’s amazing where I have come from and how I got here, and I am excited to share that with other Indigenous youth and let them know they can do what they want in life.”

Visit the Indspire website to learn more about Mr. Dymond and the awards. 

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