Saada Hussen 

Name: Saada Hussen 

Education: Doctor of Medicine, University of Ottawa

Profession: Full-time student

Years of Experience: 1 year

When you were a child, did you envision becoming what you are now?

I was always indecisive about what I wanted to do when I was older. I used to jump from wanting to be a teacher to a lawyer and many others in between. In high school, I started gravitating more toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Since I didn’t know what I wanted to do and seemed to be drawn towards so many different career opportunities, I looked up to my brother who was excelling in the STEM field. In my head, I thought careers like lawyer, engineer and doctor were incredibly interesting but unattainable because I had never seen someone who looked like me in those professions. I had these aspirations, but I never thought they would materialize. I never thought there would be a day where I could say I am in school to be a doctor. 

Can you please tell us about your journey? When did you first think to yourself, “I made it”?

In grade 12, I discovered organic chemistry and decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. I was certain that I wanted to be an organic chemistry professor until I discovered that the majority of their time is spent doing research. I dabbled in the research field to discover that research in synthetic chemistry was not for me because of the anti-social nature of it. I want to be in a career that allows me to interact with people and build relationships. I also still wanted to reach my goal of teaching and being an educator at a university level. I spoke to a lot of people and learned that healthcare aligned with my interests. A lot of the advice I got was to pursue nursing rather than medicine because it was considered more achievable for me. After discovering that I met the prerequisites for the medical program at the University of Ottawa, I decided to apply. I had very little confidence this would work out. I remember being in shock when I got the interview offer from the University of Ottawa. Even when I got accepted, I did not believe it actually happened. All of this stemmed from me not envisioning myself in a medical position because I had never seen someone who looked like myself in that profession. 

I had my “I made it” moment when I got a message from a friend who is a year younger than me. She saw a photo of me and my class in the French stream of the medical program, in which I was the only Black person. I am a Somali-Canadian Muslim female and so is my friend. She was inspired and motivated by my achievement. I am incredibly happy to say that my friend is one of the students in this incoming cohort. Having the ability to be a mentor and help break down barriers was the most heartwarming part of this journey.

Did you face any challenges on your journey to get where you are? Do you currently face any challenges?

Imposter syndrome and self-doubt. One thing that was constantly engrained, even from people with good intentions, is that as a Black Muslim female, I “check all the boxes”. I was told that I would get accepted to medical school because of who I am. I heard this so much that I started using it as a coping mechanism to encourage myself that I would get in. When I was accepted, this way of thinking began to work against me and I started to believe I only got in because I checked all the boxes. This really fed into the imposter syndrome I experienced. When I started my journey as a medical student, I thought I was only there because of what I look like and not because of my intelligence. This led to me over-committing, becoming worn down and not taking enough time for self-care. I was so concerned with showing other people that I deserved to be there and I constantly need to remind myself that I am here because of my efforts and work ethic. It is incredibly important to understand and remember that you worked very hard for your position and deserve to be there just as much as your peers. 

What skills do you believe a person needs to succeed in your profession?

The most important thing I would emphasize is self-awareness. You want to know yourself: what makes you happy and what makes you uneasy, your strengths and weaknesses, your emotions and what evokes them. As a medical student, you will likely experience so many emotions and you want to understand where they stem from and deal with them. For example, I noticed that I would have bouts of anxiety while shadowing a professional. I later realized this was because I didn’t know whether my precept was treating me a certain way because of the way I look. One method that has worked for me is journaling and therapy. Understanding when you need to take a step back and learning to prioritize yourself is critical because burnout is a reality. I emphasize self-awareness because I believe that it is the seed to success. 

What advice would you give to others who aspire to be where you are?

Reach out to others. When I was applying for medicine, I was very reluctant to reach out to others. In my current position, I realize people are more willing to help than you think. Connect with people who are where you want to be. Trying using online networking platforms such as LinkedIn. I used to spend weeks trying to figure things out myself but could have reached an answer much quicker had I reached out to someone to ask. I also recommend that people take a risk and apply to that school, job or internship. If you meet the basic requirements, I would say go for the opportunity. To your surprise, you just might land that position!

Can you please share one goal you achieved that you are extremely proud of?

My current position as a Student Representative on the University of Ottawa Board of Governors, which is the highest governing body of the university. I am involved with ensuring that the school’s Constitution is properly implemented and I participate in recruitment and hiring of employees. When I was in the second year of my undergrad at the University of Ottawa, I had a lot of strong opinions about the school. So, a friend suggested that I take on a position where I can use these opinions to advocate and make changes. I ran for a position on the board and won! I am most proud of achieving this goal because I am now in a position where I can speak for different equity seeking groups I am a part of and share my concerns with people who have power to make changes. I am grateful to see progress being made and ideas materializing to create change. Also, I am extremely proud to be in a position where I can gain skills, tools and knowledge in politics that can be translated to any field. I was recently re-elected into the position for a second term.