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Sujen Saravanabavan is passionate about helping others. In addition to his medical studies, the third-year student is also an active member of various student leadership groups. This weekend, he’ll be presented with an MD Financial Management Student Leadership Award at the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) Spring General Meeting in Halifax. The award recognizes medical students who have made innovative contributions to their schools and communities. He recently told writer Erin Howe about his volunteer work and plans for the future.
You’re the senior U of T representative for the CFMS, a member of the executive committee for Ontario Medical Students Association and you’ve also been the Vice President of External Relations for U of T’s Medical Society. What have you enjoyed about taking on these kinds of roles?
I had the opportunity to be Vice President External for my first two years of medical school. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my time as a pre-clerk. I loved working with passionate colleagues, the process of understanding what advocacy means to me personally and seeing a vision through to completion. One example is starting the Toronto Political Advocacy Committee through the Medical Society, which ended up doing some great work in the City of Toronto.
How will these roles help you prepare for your career?
I spent a lot of time deepening my understanding of what advocacy means to me and what types of roles I’d like to take on in the future. Through this experience and others, I’ve become passionate about the social determinants of health. I hope to have a career that involves clinical medicine, policy and advocacy and this creates a strong foundation and perspective.
What have been the best parts of clerkship so far?
There have been many amazing things about clerkship! The best parts have been the moments when I feel I’m positively impacting a patient’s life. In one experience, I worked with a patient who had a particularly challenging social circumstance, which included living in a shelter. Through our encounter, I realized he had a wealth of ideas to support others in similar circumstances. I encouraged him to write a letter to his local government official to express his ideas and concerns. Together, we found his city councillor and created a plan for the patient to write a letter to them. I didn’t have the opportunity to follow-up with him, but before leaving that appointment the man thanked me for believing in him. I like to think he actually wrote that letter and that this experience helped encourage him.
I’ve also enjoyed the personal growth that happens as a clerk. Don’t get me wrong — it’s also the most challenging part. Being constantly evaluated both clinically and through testing can lead to many emotionally challenging situations. But constantly being pushed to your limits made me better. It’s pretty rewarding to get at least some of the questions your senior asks correct!
Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
I’m interested in pursuing something where I work with children, both clinically and in terms of my advocacy. I’d also love to be involved in teaching future medical students. While work is important to me, hopefully I’m balanced in terms of my personal life. I really want to have a family and maintain the friendships I’ve made so far.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I wish I had something that makes me look incredibly smart and thoughtful, but I honestly love playing video games. I also really enjoy practicing close-up magic (something I hope to incorporate into my clinical medicine) and spending time with my friends.
You also help teach dance to kids with autism — can you tell me more about this?
I first learned to dance — specifically popping, clown walking and tutting — when I was fourteen by watching YouTube videos. I had no idea it would lead to helping teach a dance class many years later! I did this for nearly two years during my pre-clerkship years. There are so many things I loved about this experience. Teaching children with autism was a learning experience for me, but the part I enjoyed the most was simple — just watching the kids have fun with dance. Kids find pleasure in such simple things. Seeing them engage with dance and witnessing dance bring them closer to each other and their families was incredible!