Sheiry Dhillon Profile
Sheiry Dhillon (Ontario & Lady Margaret Hall, 2012) is a first-year medical student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, while simultaneously completing her DPhil in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford. Prior to arriving in Oxford, she completed a Bachelor (Hon) in Health Science at McMaster, specializing in global health. Her interest in low-income health care settings has led her to do work and research in Guyana, South Africa and India.
Rhodes Project: You’re currently completing your M.D. at McMaster while simultaneously finishing your DPhil in Oxford. What does it mean for you to have your research informed by clinical practice? How do you find that deepens your research?
Sheiry Dhillon: When I came to Oxford to start my DPhil it took time to find mentors who could help me produce authentic research that I was interested in. I ultimately changed my research project so that it was more patient-centred. I’m realizing that meaningful research, for me, comes from talking to patients and understanding what they need in practice. My research is in obstetrics, so it leads me to speak with a variety of pregnant women about the experience of having small babies. The more you listen to those stories, the more you realize that these women are often feeling abandoned. They’re not feeling listened to, there’s no continuity of care and access to coherent and easy to understand information is difficult.
It’s been tough because even though I’m a medical researcher, I’m not yet practicing medicine. Ultimately, regardless of what my research uncovers, it’s the physicians who make the decisions and provide care. So there is a missing element when you aren’t amongst those responsible for translating the research findings. I’ve also realized that if I started my medical training, I have the opportunity to begin asking my research questions from an additional perspective and I’ve found it very fruitful so far. Most importantly, I’m also learning to become a practitioner myself – one who incorporates the patient’s voice in my work. I think this will be incredibly important as I continue on this journey of becoming a competent physician.
Rhodes Project: You’ve done some work at McMaster around access to health care for refugees. Are there changes or reforms you’d like to see to refugee policy in Canada?
Sheiry Dhillon: Yes, absolutely. I think what happens in Canada right now doesn’t make any sense. Policies that restrict refugee access to health care are not what our country stands for. We’ve always stood for universal health care, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Dividing up certain groups and then ensuring some people have access and others do not is not a core value of Canada – so policies moving in that direction are a complete disservice to Canadians. It’s so ridiculous to say that we will only provide health care to a very vulnerable group of people at the most extreme end of care (the emergency room), when their life is threatened. It doesn’t make sense from a moral or an economic standpoint.
Rhodes Project: What first made you interested in obstetrics and maternal health?
Sheiry Dhillon: Maternal health has always meshed well with my interest in global health, and I’ve always been passionate about serving vulnerable populations.
Maternal and child health is really interesting because you have a cross-section of two generations. You have the mother and you have the foetus. The mother’s lived a certain life that has been shaped by her environment, her situation at home and the social norms around her. That’s her truth and her reality – and now everything she knows and has been exposed to will be passed on to the foetus. It’s an interesting point in time where you have the ability to care for two generations and it’s an important time to intervene and provide care to make the family feel heard and safe.
It also clicked when I realized that my sister – who is eight years older than me, and was born when my family lived in India – was born in one environment with no access to resources, no medical equipment and not even a trained professional. Literally eight years later, my mom birthed me in a medical centre here in Ontario. It blew my mind that those kinds of disparities can exist, depending on where you are.
Rhodes Project: Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to travel next, for research or pleasure?
Sheiry Dhillon: Well, when I was in Oxford it was so nice to have access to Europe. I felt spoiled in some ways – being back in Canada has made me realize how little of my own country I’ve seen. So something I’d like to do in the near future is do the West Coast Trail with a close friend, or go up north and visit my best friend in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. I’ve lived here for a long time and it’s a privilege to be able to explore my own homeland. I’m feeling very close to home these days.
Rhodes Project: What inspires and motivates you?
Sheiry Dhillon: I’m fortunate enough to have some very inspiring people in my life, both friends and family. I love that I know people who are very passionate about the work they do, in very different disciplines – like friends who are in law or industrial design or just avid readers. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re working on an M.D./DPhil and I draw a lot of my energy and motivation from conversations with brilliant and compassionate friends.
Rhodes Project: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Sheiry Dhillon: These weren’t the exact words, but my old assistant dean at McMaster is such a wise, smart man and his approach to education and lifelong learning is to “take your time”. It might not look like I’m taking my time on paper while doing an M.D/DPhil simultaneously, but internally I am. Life isn’t a race – you’ll be learning things for the rest of your days.
Rhodes Project: Are there other social or political issues on your mind at the moment, either in Canada or abroad?
Sheiry Dhillon: My paradigm at the moment is very health care focused – but I think we need a much broader definition of health care and wellbeing. We need to stop thinking of health care solely as a service we deliver. There are connections between health outcomes and the social determinants of health – how much money you’re making, how much food is on the table, which school your kids go to, etc. In the health care field there needs to be much more emphasis on health care and wellbeing as integrated concepts. We’re not thinking holistically enough.
Rhodes Project: What do you think the next 10 years of your life will look like, professionally and personally?
Sheiry Dhillon: It’s funny you give me 10 years – I still have to finish my M.D. and DPhil! That will take about 4 years, followed by residency. My primary goal for the next 10 years is to become a competent, compassionate, intelligent, trustworthy and patient-centred physician. It takes a long time to become competent, and being competent means never forgetting what the patient needs and making sure they feel heard as well as knowing your science! I’d also like to make sure that whatever I’m doing – whether that’s research or practice – is focused on groups who traditionally have had difficulty accessing the health care system.
Rhodes Project: What are you finding most intellectually interesting in your M.D. at the moment?
Sheiry Dhillon: I’ve been thinking a lot about evidence-based medicine. It’s the idea that when we have patients in front of us, there’s Intervention A and Intervention B – and we can rely on data through randomized control trials and cohort studies to determine what the best decision might be.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – I think having numbers to prove the utility of certain medications or interventions is important. I do worry sometimes that this concept is being taught so widely that we’re losing the individuality in medicine. My research is all about the patient and the individual experience – I’m doing narratives of the experience of having small babies, and that’s my paradigm for how I want to practice. Evidence-based medicine feeds into that paradigm, but I worry sometimes that we are moving towards numbers and evidence at the expense of the patient.
Rhodes Project: What book(s) have been most transformative for you?
Sheiry Dhillon: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It’s an all-time favourite. It’s a book about India and crosses all the different castes and how people fall between the castes and their identities intersect with each other. I read it in my early teens and I just remember thinking: “How can the world work this way?” It was an important book to read at a point in my life when I was starting to ask questions about the society and world in which I lived.
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