Inspiring future generations of health heroes with Discovery Days in Health Science

Posted on Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A photo of the career panelists from the May 6 Discovery Days event.

By Michelle Read

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust health researchers and front-line workers into a heroic light, piquing the public’s interest in learning more about the world of medicine.

Earlier this month, more than 200 high school students from Ottawa and across Ontario did just that. Meeting online to explore career options, the May 6 event gave youth first-hand access to the minds of world-class doctors and researchers at uOttawa, getting their questions answered about joining the world of medicine, biomedical research and health.

“We’re in the middle of a threat to humanity, and I am interested in talking to you about your future role in that and some challenges coming up for us in the next generation,” said keynote speaker Dr. Doug Manuel, distinguished professor in the Department of Family Medicine and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Enriching day of exploration

Event organizer Dr. Diane Lagace introduced Dr. Manuel, thanking him for his work and for sharing his wisdom as part of the event.

“Dr. Manuel’s research into how we can most effectively improve the health of our communities and reduce inequalities has become even more import in light of COVID,” she explained to the students.

Discovery Days are presented by the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) and hosted locally by many partners across the country. Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the event proceeded this year in virtual form, featuring members of the Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The French edition of the event was held on April 9 and hosted 96 participants. Moderator Dr. Mathieu Lavallée-Adam, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, introduced keynote speaker Anne Robitaille, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences and research chair in the care of vulnerable people at the Centre of Excellence at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre. Dr. Robitaille addressed the students on the subject of the challenges of dementia.

“Overall, the students found the day an enriching experience and have expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to participate,” said Nani Maleko, CMHF’s program coordinator for Discovery Days, of the April event (see sidebar at right).

Lissa Foster, CMHF’s executive director, explains that improving health in Canada and around the world is vital to everyone’s lives. “Encouraging our youth to choose a career in a field where they can do this has never been more relevant,” she says. “More than 85% of students who participate in this program tell us this day helps solidify their plans to pursue a health sciences career.”  

Practical and interactive

Members of the Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences delivered the day’s opening remarks. Standing outside the Health Sciences building on the Roger Guindon campus, Dr. Alireza Jalali, associate dean, External Relations, Engagement and Advancement at the Faculty of Medicine, expressed his desire to welcome the students in person one day, echoed by the deans of the two faculties, Dr. Bernard Jasmin and Dr. Lucie Thibault.

“Today is a chance to engage with researchers in their real work environment to help you explore whether you are interested in becoming leaders in health sciences,” said Dr. Thibault.

Participants chose from 21 practical workshops according to their interests. Virtual lab experiments complemented interactive discussions exploring surgical techniques, life in the ER, genetic screening to identify disease risk, viewing cellular mechanisms through high-resolution microscopes and many other topics in clinical fields and the basic sciences.

Planning and sharing: a team effort

Students posed their questions at Health Pros Tell-All, a career panel discussion and Q&A. Panellists shared their stories of the evolution of their career, including Associate Professor Diane Lagace of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, PhD candidate in epidemiology Nicole Hammond, orthopedic surgeon Wade Gofton (The Ottawa Hospital), and neonatologist Erika Bariciak (CHEO Research Institute), as well as professors from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Heather Sircombe, director of development for the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

The event was organized by the CMHF as well as Dr. Lagace, Catherine Dumoulin of Continuing Professional Development, and the organizing committee at the Faculty of Medicine, and was supported by local sponsor Kiwanis Ottawa and national sponsor MD Financial Management.

Dr. Manuel had set the tone for a day of career exploration and contemplation in his keynote address, suggesting the biggest challenge of the pandemic is not the virus, but rather its host.

“We know a lot less about ourselves than we do about COVID-19,” he said.

“My challenge to you is to think of the social sciences of your problems and bring those into our sciences more.”

Dean of Medicine Dr. Bernard Jasmin delivers a virtual welcome address at the April 9 Discovery Days event.

Dr. Bernard Jasmin, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, welcoming students to the April 9, 2021 Discovery Days event at the University of Ottawa.

Main photo: The career panel discussion at the May 6 Discovery Days at the University of Ottawa. Clockwise from top left: Heather Sercombe, director of development, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame; Diane Lagace, associate professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine; Erika Bariciak, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics/CHEO Research Institute; Kim McMillan, RN, PhD, Faculty of Health Sciences; Nicole Hammond, PhD candidate, School of Epidemiology and Public Health; Pascal Fallavollita, associate professor, Faculty of Health Sciences; Wade Gofton, orthopedic surgeon and professor, Department of Surgery/The Ottawa Hospital.

Photo credits: University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine

A photo of the career panelists from the April 9 Discovery Days event.

The career panel discussion at the April 9 Discovery Days at the University of Ottawa. Clockwise from top left: Kay-Anne Haykal, assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine; Marc-Olivier Deguise, pediatrics resident, Faculty of Medicine; Mathieu Lavallée-Adam, assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology; Kevin Smit, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor, Department of Surgery/CHEO Research Institute; Paulette Guitard, occupational therapist, Faculty of Health Sciences; Pierre-Marc Dion, intensive care nurse, Montfort Hospital and MD candidate, Faculty of Medicine.

Student praise for Discovery Days 2021

April 9:

  • I appreciated the warm atmosphere and the professionals sharing their post-secondary experiences. The discussion was really motivating and interesting!
  • I really liked the variety of people at the round table.
  • This has very much deepened my knowledge regarding my future and all of its possibilities! The answers were honest, thorough and well thought out for high school students. I very much appreciated the chance to participate in this activity!
  • We had the chance to meet several doctors, who each explained their career to us. It was wonderful to meet people who are practicing my dream career. Thank you so much. It was an experience I will remember forever.
  • It was very interesting and informative. It was very clear and I really enjoyed hearing about the career paths of different people. It was a fantastic morning. Thank you so much!
  • The variety of presentations and experts taught me a lot about various aspects of the medical field. It was a very enriching experience.
  • Good orientation activity on health sciences; I discovered new areas in the health field. It was a great day; thank you very much!
  • An unforgettable experience! I highly recommend participating in this opportunity for discovery.

May 6:

  • I never thought of social science in such a way before - this will definitely have an impact on me forever.
  • I found the career panel very helpful and interesting… it was reassuring to hear that everyone goes through doubt or fear during their post-secondary education but as long as you stay determined and disciplined you can make it to where you want to be.
  • The career panel was my favourite part of today because I got the chance to hear from people who are currently doing what I aspire to become. …it was nice to get personal advice from the health professionals.
  • I find that I am more passionate about medicine than ever before. I learned so much; the various workshops and lectures I've participated in today made me excited to pursue my career.
  • The keynote lecture was very helpful for me as it relieved some of my stress. Dr. Manuel said it was completely fine if we do not currently know which career path we want to follow. He said we must learn how to learn and we must always keep learning. This is a very important skill which will help me make a wise decision for my future career path.
  • All the speakers were super great and they tried to be as thorough as possible when answering questions. They provided links and websites that would help us and gave us great advice. It was a fun time.
  • Hearing many medical professionals' experiences from themselves was inspiring. Entering the process of medical research seems much less intimidating now.
  • The layout of Discovery Day was amazing. I enjoyed having the freedom to navigate between exhibits and attending meetings. It felt like a virtual fair where I could go from booth to booth.
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