Our Journey to Canada

Meet Selam Ogbalidet, a proud Eritrean-Canadian. Selam is a third-year medical student, at the University of Ottawa, who is interested in pursuing a career in surgery and is excited to break barriers in medicine. Selam has degrees in Health Sciences (BHSc) and Psychology & Gerontology (Honours BA), both from the University of Ottawa. Selam is passionate about reforming the dermatology curriculum and making it more inclusive of various skin colours. To do her part to advocate for increased representation within and accessibility to the medical profession, Selam started @1stGenMD on Instagram to share tips and tricks with 1st generation, Black, and/or non-traditional medical school applicants. While reflecting on her family’s immigration story, this is what she had to say:

My parents, who were both in their mid-to-late 20s at the time, immigrated to Ottawa, Ontario in the late 1980s. Originally from Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa, their journey to the West was preceded by a two-year stint in Sudan where my dad worked in the field for the Red Cross. Once my parents arrived in Canada, they spent four weeks at The Reception House, where they were quickly introduced to the Canadian way of life and all the logistics that entails. Two weeks after their arrival to Canada, I was born – at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus – which is exactly where I now spend my time studying medicine. Throughout our formative years, my three younger siblings and I watched our parents work several jobs while still finding the time to shuttle us around to countless recreational activities, help newly arrived Eritrean immigrants and refugees acclimate to their new surroundings, and be present and loving parents.

All the successes and achievements my parents have amassed over their three decades in Canada have been the result of their hard labour and countless sacrifices. My parents have consistently gone without personal luxuries all so that I could go after my dreams of becoming a doctor without having to be concerned with the finances required to do so. As an adult who has the privilege of being able to live out my greatest dreams because of my parents love and support, I frequently find myself reflecting upon the many lessons they have imparted to me over the years.

Do not fear hard work; in fact, embrace it. The days are long, but the years are short so go after your dreams with everything you have because the time will pass anyways, and regret is too heavy a burden to carry. Everyone will face hardships in their lives; however, you get to decide how you will respond to them. These hardships offer opportunities to develop resilience.

Take the time to invest in your community just as you would invest in yourself. You are only one piece of a much larger puzzle so do your best to be kind and remain humble.

When I look to the future and everything I hope to accomplish professionally, I cannot help but be thankful for my Eritrean roots. I take pride in every clinical encounter that I have because I am often the first medical professional of Eritrean descent that patients meet – and I have high hopes that I will not be the last.

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