Looking to the Northern Lights: Helping in an Uncertain Time

Looking to the Northern Lights: Helping in an Uncertain Time

Pandemics such as the novel coronavirus outbreak can give rise to anxiety and uncertainty. But they can also fuel kindness. Making opportunities to help, groups have sprung up across the country to support their communities.

Project Northern Lights is one such group that is stepping up to set effective response efforts in motion at the grass-root level. Our student, Naomi, is at the forefront of this initiative. She shared her experience with us and elaborated on the need for providing both immediate responses, as well as solutions for long-term support.

Looking to the Northern Lights: Helping in an Uncertain Time

Naomi Zingman-Daniels | TRP | April 20, 2020

When you’re coming to the end of your Master’s degree, there’s a certain amount of uncertainty to be expected. Certainly, in the Translational Research Program, we’ve learned to deal with and thrive with uncertainty. That being said, in March, as I looked down the barrel of an unknown amount of self-isolation, delays to my capstone, and sickness for a large portion of my friends and family… this wasn’t something, I thought, that I knew how to deal with. This was something else.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us in different ways. As many of my classmates and colleagues know, I thrive on doing and tend to keep myself busy with an assortment of hobbies, jobs, and adventures. With most placed on hold due to the pandemic, and with my friends on the frontlines, I knew I had to find something new to do. I had heard of groups working to expand community aid and fight the protective-equipment shortage, and I found my way into one of these groups, Project Northern Lights, soon after the pandemic started. I was able to use my project management, coordination, and organizational skills to find a niche within the group and quickly became an active member.

Project Northern Lights is a not-for-profit organization that I work with as a Board Member and Outreach Manager, focusing on helping utilize community resources and volunteers to help with identified problems stemming from the crisis. I mostly work with the PPE Project, where we have created an entire supply chain for creating and delivering protective equipment not only to hospitals but to marginalized populations in the community such as frontline workers, shelters, clinics, safe injection sites, hospices, youth centres, and long-term-care homes. To date, we’ve delivered over 1,400 pieces of equipment around the GTA and have plans for at minimum a few hundred more each week. We’ve partnered with a number of local and national organizations, and have facilitated the delivery of 4,000 additional pieces of protective equipment to the northern communities in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.

What makes me even prouder of our initiative is that it’s entirely volunteer-based. From shops, individuals, and even museums donating resources for us to make masks and shields, to the makers cutting, printing, sewing, sanitizing, assembling, and delivering the protective equipment, we have a community of hundreds of Canadian residents and citizens who understand that community coming together to protect the most vulnerable and overlooked is the best way to move forward, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved so far, and the people we can continue to help with this work.

If you are interested in learning more about what we do: Project Nothern Lights

If you work for a place that needs PPE, please reach out to: Requests form

If you’re interested in helping out, please fill out this form: Volunteer Registration 

If you are able to contribute to our GoFundMe so that we can continue supplying our makers and shipping to places and people in need: Project Nothern Lights GoFundMe

Student Reflection: Chartering New Territories

Student Reflection: Chartering New Territories

#UofTMed International Student Reflection by Shayan

Shayan Bashir, M.D. M.H.Sc. TRP

As an internationally trained physician with a secure future, moving to Canada was a huge step for Dr. Shayan Bashir. Fueled by his passion to further his education and medical training, he chose a professional program that would allow him to hone his skills and offer him a robust career path. As a first-year student at the Translational Research Program, Shayan reminisces his journey and shares his experience with us.


Chartering New Territories

I am an internationally trained physician who moved to Canada with an intention to seek further medical training and education. Having faced an initial struggle in the healthcare field, I realized that Canadian healthcare is a lot different from Pakistan’s. Then began a search for a robust graduate program that would align with my goals of enhancing my skills as a healthcare professional, while offering me more than just a career path, rather an open and diverse learning framework. Although, one thing was clear – that the program had to be in the faculty of medicine, my area of interest.

Finally, one of my friends who was already enrolled in the TRP prompted me to look into this program. After I researched the Translational Research Program at the University of Toronto, my mind was made. There were a number of things about the TRP which piqued my interest including, the design of experiential learning, non-traditional teaching, collaborative framework, as well as a more open and diverse kind of curriculum. Strategically speaking, it was a risky career move, but for me to learn more effectively, the spirit of the program had to align with my thinking, which it clearly does. The calculated risk I took has paid off.

I am halfway through my first year at the TRP and I am loving it for one main reason. The program has offered me the insight that I have so much to learn and this riveting feeling makes me ecstatic. I feel very excited to be part of such an amazing community, teachers, and students, who are educating themselves to disrupt healthcare in so many possible ways.

I believe that I have found a purpose that is deeper than practicing clinical medicine. I am extremely confident that the TRP is enabling me to put on a new lens with which I will visualize patient care in a very different, innovative and creative way. It is teaching me practically that “If I want to go fast, I should go alone; but if I want to go far, I must go together”.

Dr. Shayan Bashir has years of experience in medicine. He desires to learn the skill set that will not only equip him to identify the gaps in global health but also how tangible results can be used to remedy the shortfalls. He is currently working as a clinical research assistant at the department of cardiovascular surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. Connect with him on LinkedIn to learn more about his endeavours.
Editor: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP
Alumna Reflection: An Unconventional Journey 

Alumna Reflection: An Unconventional Journey 

#UofTMed Alumna Reflection by Razan 

After the completion of her undergraduate studies, Razan wanted to make a positive difference in the field of healthcare. She thought that the only two choices she had to achieve her goal were to either go to medical school or work as a lab researcher. That was until she came across the Translational Research Program, where she could focus on patients within their contexts and needs while working on solving real-world problems. As she looks back, she reflects on her journey with the TRP in this candid blog. 

An Unconventional Journey  

“Define the need, bridge the gap, keep it user-centric.” To most people in healthcare, this might not mean much, however, to a Translational Research Program (TRP) graduate these are words to live by. 

I graduated from the Translational Research Program as a part of the second cohort back in 2018. My capstone project, completed along with three fellow students, was on cancer outpatient nutritional status. We investigated nutritional education programs throughout Toronto and interviewed cancer outpatients to find the gap between the dietary recommendations and the integration of these recommendations into their daily lives. 

Six months after graduating, I landed my current role as a Knowledge Translation Coordinator at a not-for-profit organization, the Aphasia Institute. Aphasia is a communication disorder most commonly caused by a brain injury or a stroke. People with aphasia are intelligent, competent individuals who still can make decisions — however, their difficulty with speech masks this competence.  

Healthcare professionals have difficulty communicating with people with aphasia, and this gap leads to negative health-related quality of life and high social costs on identity and family relationships. The Aphasia Institute has begun addressing this gap by designing a method of facilitated conversation called “Supported Conversation for Adults with Aphasia (SCA)” to assist healthcare professionals in communicating with people with aphasia.  

Within my role at the Aphasia Institute, I am coordinating the dissemination of SCA resources to healthcare professionals nationally and internationally. Throughout different dissemination projects, I find myself reeling in skills learned through the TRP. From the facilitation of interdisciplinary meetings to user-centric testing and iterating, the skills gained through the TRP experience are invaluable to my work 

I find myself using the Toronto Translational Framework when planning for testing and distribution of the resources, and I find myself putting different “hats” on to cater to various stakeholders in this field. Driving change through the dissemination of different ideas and innovations is fulfilling, and the Translational Research Program has paved a new way of understanding the healthcare system, which has and will continue to aid me with healthcare projects throughout my career. Define the need, bridge the gap, keep it user-centric – the TRP words I live by. 

Razan is one of our TRP alumni who have discovered ways to make an impact on healthcare outside of the research or clinical settings. As Razan said, sometimes you must put on a different “hat” to change your perspective.  The roles of translating knowledge and implementing change to the healthcare system are crucial to the uptake of innovation, and through human-centric approach, these changes can be designed for the people who need them.  


Editor: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP

Student Reflection: An Exploration of New Boundaries

Student Reflection: An Exploration of New Boundaries

#UofTMed International Student Reflection by Anat


As a pharmacist in Israel with a secure job and bright prospects, relocation to Canada was a bold move for Anat Segal-Shalev. Faced with aopportunity to further her academic credentials, Anat chose a professional program that would allow her to fill gaps in knowledge and train her in critical problemsolving skills in health. As she approaches the completion of her 2-year master’s degree at the TRP, she reflects on her journey 

An Exploration of New Boundaries 

I used to have a great job at a big pharmaceutical company in Israel. I loved my job and enjoyed being a part of this global industry, but when an opportunity to move to Canada emerged, I knew I wanted to take the time to study. I started searching for a degree, and my first option was UofT, as it is so well known and has a renowned reputation.  My background and qualifications as a pharmacist-led me to the IMS, where, I came across the Translational Research Program serendipitously.

I read about the program and it made me curious and excited. Even though the field of translational research was new to me, I immediately understood how necessary this field was becoming in the healthcare world. In addition, I could not find a similar program almost anywhere else in the world that focused on competencies in problem-solving in healthcare. This made me even more confident that such a program would give me an added value and an eminent advantage in the competitive healthcare environment I was a part of. I, therefore, decided to apply to be part of the 2017 cohort and prepared for a big transformation in my life.

As an international student, my learning experience was intensified by the move to a new country. I had many gaps in knowledge and in understanding the health innovation pathway and often felt different from most other students.  However, there is no better program to feel unique in. I had the privilege of meeting phenomenal people, who embrace diversity and differences. They taught me how to see diversity as an opportunity to learn and grow. I learned to think more open-mindedly without getting easily intimidated, to expect the unexpected, and to be willing to ask for help if needed. The program enabled me to grow both as a person and as a professional.

The TRP is a greenhouse for students who are eager to explore their own boundaries and challenge others to do so with them. It offers exceptional opportunities that push students outside of their comfort zones, to look far ahead but also deep inside themselves. The best part is that the learning experience is so rich and varied, that I learned even more than I expected. I never knew I had the ability to develop so many new skills and evolve so much in such a short period of time.

There are so many gaps in our healthcare system, and there is a need for people who will drive change with new ideas and innovations, using the unique approach of translational research. Thanks to the program, today, I am ready to take on challenges in the healthcare environment with a more comprehensive approach.


Bio: Anat Segal-Shalev has ten years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and recently completed her Master of Health Science in Translational Research degree from the University of Toronto.  Connect with Anat on Linkedin


Editor: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP

Understanding Humanity: Gateway into the lives of Torontonians

Understanding Humanity: Gateway into the lives of Torontonians

Understanding Humanity

Stories go beyond simply entertaining us, they capture the essence of what it means to be human.

A photo essay by Craig Madho for the TRP | August 19, 2019

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 196, Used with Permission)

This photo, titled “Grannies’ tug-of-war, Centre Island”, has become one of my favourite photographs of old Toronto. It was taken in the 1920s by a photographer named William James Sr. James was an early practitioner of human interest and candid photography, which is sometimes considered to be documentary-style photography. Through his pictures he was able to capture what life was like in his adopted home—hailing originally from Walsall, England, he first landed in Quebec with his family before taking the train into Toronto.

Now, there are many things I love about this picture of women playing tug-of-war: the playfulness of the act, the mix of levity and competitiveness along each of their faces, the fact that they’re all wearing their Sunday best, and, I mean, look at those shoes—killer! But what pulls me in is how James was able to capture this moment, frozen in time, which would have otherwise been lost. Pictures like these are stories in themselves and give us a gateway into the lives and values of old Torontonians so we can see how we have evolved.

It’s easy to write off taking pictures like this as frivolous, but having these works is imperative for us to understand our past and grow from it. I work as the editor for a magazine called The Local, we are an independent online magazine exploring health and social issues in Toronto. Our approach to storytelling is unique: we take a data-driven yet authentically human approach to storytelling on pressing issues facing the city. We have no shortage of data, but what good are numbers, especially in healthcare, if you don’t understand how they impact an individual. Documenting lives, in the same way, that James does in these pictures, enables us to capture the humanity behind some of our most pressing health and social issues. That is why the work of people like James and his contemporaries are so important for helping us understand the human nature of old Toronto and how we might use those same techniques to understand the present day.

The collection of photographs by the James family, numbering just over 4000 items, can be found for free on the Toronto Archives website. Here are a few select images that I found that paint a picture of what Toronto was like through the eyes of William James Sr.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 21A, Used with Permission)

Prior to the amalgamation of the suburbs into the newly incorporated Toronto in 1834, many of the roads remained dirty and unpaved. While the city worked infrastructure improvements into its budget, it would not have been uncommon to see kids running around and playing in muddy roads.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 57, Used with Permission)

This was an ambulance given to the Toronto General Hospital by Sir John Eaton, son of Timothy Eaton, the department store magnate for whom the Toronto Eaton Centre is named after. During this time period, it was still not wholly uncommon to see horse-drawn ambulances carrying individuals to the hospital. But as automobile manufacturing began, it was becoming less common.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 115, Used with Permission)

What these men are precariously carrying across this steel beam is a forge, which is an item used to heat metals so they can become more malleable. It’s unclear whether this act of bravery was standard practice at the time, but it is nevertheless impressive.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 51, Used with Permission)

It’s not summertime in Toronto without the auto show. Taken in 1913, it would appear that car shows in this city have a long history.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 122, Used with Permission)

But you can’t talk about automobiles without talking about streetcars. Pictured here is a streetcar at the Woodbine racetrack waiting to start. Taken between 1908-1912, it’s perhaps clearer now that the inspiration for the initial design came from a place with warmer weather year-round. I don’t dare imagine hopping on one of these during a Toronto winter.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 116, Used with Permission)

There’s no greater satisfaction than finally finishing a project, and that’s what’s captured here. This group of workmen is laying the last stone on the Canada Life building. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the large building on University and Queen Street West, across from Osgoode Hall. Interestingly, the spire of the Canada Life building is still an option for you to find out what the weather will be like tomorrow. That weather beacon is the oldest device of its kind in the country.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 180A, Used with Permission)

This group of students, led by Dean Howe of the University of Toronto, is a botany class from 1910 walking through High Park. Presumably, the flowers being held by some students are samples that they will study. As a U of T graduate myself, it’s hard to imagine wearing such a dapper suit to class—especially one in which we’re hiking through a park.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 123, Used with Permission)

As if taken out of a Hollywood movie, this image shows postal workers sorting and stamping mail. In the electronic age, it’s hard to believe that this is what it was like before the invention of label printers.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 166, Used with Permission)

For some, it’s hard to imagine that people even live on Wards Island, let alone living on the island in a tent city. Prior to becoming a transplanted cottage country, Ward island was home to a small tent city that inhabitants called home. Though this black and white image gives the illusion that this is an artefact of forgotten history, there still exist Torontonians that remember this not-so-brief reality.

(William James, City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1244, Item 160A, Used with Permission)

This image was taken in 1913 of a group of swimmers having their picture taken in their bathing suits at Hanlan’s Point. Now Toronto’s only clothing-optional beach, the contrast between the modest swimsuits then and the liberating nature of the beach now is a clear demonstration of how we have evolved as a city.

Going through the Toronto archives I am constantly amazed at the pace of change in the city. To think that the house that I’m sitting in right now writing this piece, located comfortably in North York, was once a part of a sprawling farmland that extended down to the lake is unfathomable. Within the century the city of Toronto expanded outwards into the suburbs and up into the sky, forming the familiar glass condo towers we see today. Seeing the work of photographers and journalists like James, I sometimes wonder if the stories that we tell today will one day add to this growing picture of what Toronto is like now. One can only hope.


Craig Madho is the Associate Editor of The Local, an independent magazine exploring urban health and social issues in Toronto. Read their most recent issue, The Parks and Rec Issue, which explores the changing conceptions of how we play, document the joys and conflicts that take place within our commons, and ask a fundamental question: who are parks for? Craig is a TRP alumnus (Class 2018) and his other blogs can be found here.


Editor: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP

Student Reflection: A Journey Of Transformation – Ankita

Student Reflection: A Journey Of Transformation – Ankita

#UofTMed TRP Student Reflection by Ankita

“How can I reinvent myself?”
“How do I understand and navigate the complexity of the health care system in Canada?”
“How can I learn to speak the language?”

These were the questions that plagued Ankita when she first moved to Toronto. An internationally trained physician with over seven years of clinical experience under her belt, she began her quest for graduate programs that would allow her to grow both personally and professionally by providing the right mix of exposure and hands-on learning. Her forage ended at the Translational Research Program offered by the University of Toronto. To her, the TRP provided the best amalgamation of innovation and tradition in the realm of research. As she approaches the end of her first year in this distinct program, she candidly shares her experience with us.

“A Journey of Transformation”

People talk about reinventing themselves. The Translational Research Program has been an integral part of my journey to do just that, reinvent myself. The journey has been challenging as all changes are meant to be – disheartening at times and exciting at others, but most importantly, refreshing all the same. So let me start from the very beginning.

As a physician trained abroad, I have considerable experience in speaking with patients. Clinical research questions usually arise from problems faced in practice by healthcare providers. I have conducted traditional research studies in order to answer these clinical questions, but, unfortunately, the results have lacked impact. The TRP was instrumental in making me aware of the need to validate any such inquiry to explore the desired effect. The crux of this program for me can be summarized as – “Explore, Understand, and Talk to people before defining your need”, which will lead to drafting the research question. Enlisting a need from the perspective of end-users is the only way to design a project to ensure that it translates into real life to demonstrate an impact. The end goal of all research is to help improve human life, therefore, thinking of how we can make an impact on someone’s health should direct the journey.

My experience through various projects in this program has changed my approach towards problems. I now pursue issues with various tools and guides to navigate a challenge. The beauty of the TRP and the framework we employ is its versatility. I have applied this knowledge in the challenges I face in my day-to-day life, as well as the scientific challenges presented to us during the course of last year. TRP has been instrumental in my professional and personal growth. I have had a chance to interact with influencers from various sectors of health care; policymakers, clinicians, financers, and innovators to name a few. I have also had the opportunity of contributing towards student-led organizations such as the Pillars of Health and Geo-health Network. The message of these communities has resonated with me and inspired me to explore health in broad contexts including geographical, political, social, financial, and policy in addition to service delivery. The coalescence of policy, science, geography, and society is extraordinary in its complexity and fascinating as a field of study. TRP has provided me with an environment conducive to explore the health landscape in this exciting era of health innovation.

In my second year, I am excited to work on my capstone project which is an interdisciplinary project that will address a real need of real people with a demonstrable impact at the end. The support of our mentors throughout the program allows for a guided journey to implement my learnings in the real world. Translational researchers would have an integral part to play in the near future to ascertain that the benefit of research reaches the masses in two ways – health care research and health system navigation to address current gaps by understanding and bringing multiple lenses to the table.

For my future endeavours, I aspire to be a physician in Canada to integrate my role as a translational researcher to the clinic with the ultimate aim to improve health care in Canada.


Editor: Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP