Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk is Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon. She works at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

What advice would you offer women pursuing leadership positions in their fields?

I would say, be yourself. Don’t try to change who you are or your leadership style to try to fit in. Be confident.

What is your definition of success?

Success to me as a leader is to be able to get a team to work together towards a common goal. Being able to listen to your teams’ needs while effectively communicating your vision, and seeking input from others. That’s an example of a successful leader.

If you could start your career again, what is one thing you would do differently?

I think I would be more outgoing. It took me a while to find my footing in taking on a leadership position and feeling comfortable being the leader, so I would tell myself to be more outspoken, and not be afraid of speaking up and going after what I want.

What has been the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader and how have you overcome it?

It’s been most challenging transitioning into the role of a leader and having other team members see me as a leader – especially when colleagues knew me as a medical student. It’s something I’ve slowly transitioned into. As I gained experience, I developed more confidence, which made it easier to lead and have others see me as a leader.

What are the keys to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine?

There has to be advocates –  allies if you will – who are in leadership positions who will speak out on behalf of those trying to get their foot in the door, whichever door that may be. I also think it’s so valuable to share stories like mine, to show others – especially young women and young Indigenous Canadians – that they too can be successful in a field like heart surgery. This way, they may feel more encouraged to pursue a career in medicine.

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