Dr. Lotus Alphonsus and Dr. Jack Underschultz are being recognized for their outstanding leadership skills, as the 2024 recipients of the Sandra Banner Student Award for Leadership (SBSAL).

The Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) Board of Directors launched the SBSAL in 2013 with the aim of encouraging the development of future leaders in medicine. The annual award recognizes the exceptional leadership of one undergraduate medical student and one postgraduate medical trainee. Each of this year’s winners will receive $3,000 in leadership development funding.

Undergraduate recipient Dr. Lotus Alphonsus is an incoming internal medicine resident at the University of Toronto and completed medical school at Western University. Her experiences with war and gun violence fueled her passion for social justice and health equity. With her extensive background in trauma counselling and human trafficking, she built an innovative and culturally safe therapy program in Sri Lanka for women who experienced sexual violence by armed forces during the genocide. Inspired by these experiences, Dr. Alphonsus founded the Newcomer Health Hub to bridge gaps in medical training and address the unique needs of various newcomer populations. This national organization has grown significantly, conducting outreach initiatives and workshops for healthcare professionals and community members on often overlooked topics such as female genital mutilation and refugee health coverage. The funding from the SBSAL will go toward Newcomer Health Hub initiatives aimed at improving the healthcare experience of refugees and new immigrants.

“Leadership in medicine extends beyond the walls of the hospital. For me, it is about striving for social justice, lifting others as you climb and addressing health inequities head-on,” said Dr. Alphonsus. “As I continue my career in medicine, I aspire to be a leader who empowers the next generation of changemakers to pursue their passions relentlessly. Through collective action, we can dismantle the systemic barriers that perpetuate health disparities and build a more equitable healthcare system for all.”

Postgraduate recipient Dr. Jack Underschultz is an emergency medicine resident at the University of Alberta with a passion for global development. Over the past decade, he has spent extensive time in East Africa collaborating on meaningful projects in the education, clean water, and medical fields. Currently, Dr. Underschultz leads a charity called the Nafasi Opportunity Society with a mission to enhance gender equality in developing countries through financial empowerment. After spending time on the ground with female community leaders in the Kenyan slum of Mathare, he launched Nafasi’s pilot program: a locally developed and female-led vocational and business skills programs for the most vulnerable women in Mathare. This grassroots, research-based program gives local women the skills to gain financial independence leading to less gender-based violence, fewer unwanted early pregnancies, and safer households for children to grow up in and break the poverty cycle. The SBSAL funding will be used for the operational expenses of the Nafasi Opportunity Society’s pilot program, which will benefit 160 vulnerable women in Mathare.

“My ultimate passion is working with vulnerable populations, and I strongly believe leading Nafasi is analogous to the incomparable value of experiential learning in residency,” said Dr. Underschultz. “I also strongly believe that meaningful change requires collaboration and coalition, so I thank the Nafasi team for their selfless dedication to this project as well as all our donors who believe in our work and the impact we are providing.”

CaRMS Board of Directors Awards Committee Chair Dr. Maxime Morin-Lavoie congratulated the winners. “On behalf of the CaRMS Board of Directors and the Awards Committee, I would like to congratulate Lotus Alphonsus and Jack Underschultz,” said Dr. Morin-Lavoie. “These two truly outstanding medical learners have demonstrated a deep commitment to developing and enhancing their leadership skills to support vulnerable populations, by improving the healthcare experience of refugees and new immigrants, and by promoting gender equality through education and skills training. They have a level of leadership which is sure to strengthen and enrich the Canadian healthcare system in years to come.”

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