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Nunavummiuq med student wins leadership award

Anchaleena Mandal was just four years old when her family moved from India to Canada and nine when they relocated to Iqaluit.
Anchaleena Mandal displays the Rural Student and Resident Leadership Award that she recently received from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. Photo courtesy of Anchaleena Mandal

Anchaleena Mandal was just four years old when her family moved from India to Canada and nine when they relocated to Iqaluit.

Now that she is a medical student at Queen’s University she is being recognized for her devotion to improve health care in remote communities.

Mandal was recently awarded a Rural Student and Resident Leadership Award for the work she has done through the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC).

“I chose medicine because I noticed growing up I never saw the same doctor twice. We didn’t have doctors who lived in Nunavut. You’re seeing locums and there’s no follow-up care. As I grew up I realized that’s not normal,” Mandal told Kivalliq News, adding that Dr. Sean Doherty, Dr. Fiona Main and Dr. Patty DeMaio have faithfully served Nunavut for many years. “We’re living in a territory and we’re trying to achieve self-determination but we don’t have a lot of people from Nunavut that are doctors. I wanted to join that kind of movement to provide culturally-appropriate care.”

In 2019, her father got a job in Baker Lake, where her immediate family currently lives.

“The culture of the Inuit is very similar to Indian culture. The community-based culture, respect for Elders, all of those things really resonated with us,” she said.

Mandal said she first became involved with the SRPC in her first year of med school at Queen’s because she was feeling homesick for rural Northern life.

“I really wanted to meet people who were similar to me, so I joined the student committee and helped with different projects,” she said.

Although she is just in her fourth year of a six-year accelerated program, the 22-year-old has racked up an impressive resume, something which the SRPC acknowledged in giving her the award. As part of the SRPC student committee, she helped develop an annual rural residency catalogue for medical students considering rural practice.

In 2020 she also co-founded RISE, a national phone-support initiative of the SRPC that partners medical students with isolated individuals in rural Canada to provide companionship during the pandemic.

Mandal is also heavily involved in her faculty’s Indigenous Health Education Working Group, which seeks to indigenize the curriculum. She recently helped create new case studies that could be adapted to teach students about issues facing Indigenous people.

“We are trying to address the calls to action of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission),” she said. “Sharing experience through stories helps to influence others and make a difference.”

One of the things that Mandal is most proud of is her role with Queen’s Health and Human Rights Conference. She first joined the student-run conference as a faculty liaison for undergrads. However, she has become increasingly involved with the conference’s programming as well. After her first year, Mandal started inviting students and educators from Nunavut to take part in the conference with the help of funding from the Government of Nunavut. Because the pandemic forced this year’s conference to move online, Mandal was able to invite even more Nunavummiut to take part in this year’s conference. Some of her guests have included Health Minister George Hickes, Iqaluit nurse and former Jerry Cans member Nancy Mike, Adrienne Tagoona, a social worker in Baker Lake and  and Katherine Minich from Pangnirtung.

Mandal said the initiative has been mutually beneficial for participants from Nunavut and for faculty and students at Queen’s.

“I was homesick so it was really nice to see them,” she said.

With just two more years of school left in addition to a medical residency, Mandal said she hopes to return to Nunavut to practice medicine when she finishes her program.

“I just love my community members and I’m grateful for them making me who I am today,” she said.