While it’s not always easy to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sadia Mehmood knew medicine was her path from a very young age.
Mehmood was four years old when she arrived in Canada from Pakistan with her mother. Life was challenging at the time due to her mother’s multiple undiagnosed conditions, which included schizophrenia and liver failure.
But as Mehmood grew up, she learned to help her mother navigate the healthcare system and act as her interpreter and advocate at all medical visits. These experiences sparked her interest in medicine, which ultimately led Mehmood to Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the start of a new chapter in her life.
Mehmood remembers the dire financial and housing situations she and her mother often endured because her mom was unable to work.
“It was extremely challenging to make ends meet,” she said. “I began working as soon as I could, when I was in grade 10, to help manage finances better at home, balancing it with full-time school, volunteer work and other extracurriculars.”
When Mehmood shares her story, it’s astonishing to compare the almost insurmountable challenges she went through with the accomplishments on her six-page CV: she earned a BSc (Honours) in biomedical science with minors in sociology and psychology from Toronto Metropolitan University in 2019, followed by a Clinical Trials Management certificate from Western this year.
Along the way, she has received a long list of academic honours and awards, co-authored five academic publications, taken on clinical research positions studying endocrinology and metabolism, given presentations on medical topics, and held numerous volunteer and extracurricular roles.
During Mehmood’s first year of undergraduate studies, her mother’s liver cirrhosis decompensated, she developed complications and her health declined significantly.
In 2020 the liver failure worsened, and in early 2022 a complicated COVD-19 hospitalization deteriorated her underlying health conditions further yet.
Mehmood’s biggest cheerleader wasn’t there to celebrate her daughter’s acceptance into Western’s medical program, having passed away on Jan. 30, 2022 – a week before Mehmood received her medical school interview invitation.
Asked what sparked her interest in medicine, Mehmood cites many reasons: first and foremost were her own experiences as her mother’s primary caregiver, she said.
“I was exposed to almost every specialty and countless different healthcare settings. The one thing in common between all the varying healthcare providers we met is that we often turned to them in desperation and dire need of guidance. These experiences instilled within me a firsthand understanding of the difficulties and limitations oftentimes faced by patients and caregivers while navigating our medical system.”
This gave her insight into how she would like to care for patients.
“As front-line workers, we may be limited in what we witness of a patient’s life. But I believe it is critical to always keep the social determinants of health at the forefront of our decision-making to ensure we provide optimal care.”
In a Toronto Metropolitan University article — How Access to Education Can Change a Life — Mehmood describes having lived in shelters at times due to the family’s dire financial straits and struggling to obtain diagnoses and treatment for her mother’s illnesses.
“When my mother was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia, things completely changed, and her physicians, nurses and healthcare team heavily advocated for my mom and got us appropriate community supports that finally stabilized my life,” Mehmood said in the article. “It also allowed me to build a very strong, loving relationship with my mother.”
Inspired by how the medical community worked with her mother and herself, Mehmood realized she’d like to utilize her future role as a healthcare professional to support marginalized communities.
“Of course, I didn’t want to let my personal experience be the only determining factor,” she said. So, she set out to confirm this interest through various academic and extracurricular activities.
During her studies in biomedical science, sociology and psychology, she helped lead two mentorship programs, and was a clinical research assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children.
Her goal now is a career in medicine providing comprehensive primary care or psychiatric care for socially and medically complex patients.