From medical doctor to OISE graduate: Salma Siddiqui reflects on a whirlwind path to a Master of Education

By Perry King
November 7, 2022
salma siddiqui portrait
After working as a medical doctor in India, and arriving to Canada in 2020 with her family, Salma Siddiqui has graduated from OISE with a Master of Education. Photo courtesy Salma Siddiqui.

When Dr. Salma Siddiqui received the message stating she was “cleared for graduation,” she got goosebumps.

It has been a long time coming for Dr. Siddiqui, who graduates with a Master of Education at this fall’s Convocation. Under the tutelage of her advisor, OISE professor Ruth Childs, Dr. Siddiqui focused her studies on education in professions – specifically, a look at the impact of women who are international medical doctors in Canada like herself.

After working for about a decade as a medical doctor in India, the international medical doctor  navigated OISE excellently since arriving to Canada in 2020 with her family – gaining friendships and connections through the OISE Mentorship program (and her mentor Dr. Cindy Sinclair) and OISE’s department of leadership, higher and adult education.

Navigating this degree and COVID pandemic, it has been quite the ride and Dr. Siddiqui feels relief knowing this chapter is now done.

I won’t say it is ‘unbelievable’ that I’m graduating, as I had planned and worked hard for this,” she says, “I know the Master’s degree is done… completed, but I do miss the evening rush of classes, the Sunday 11:59 p.m. deadline to submit an assignment, the class discussions with peers and professors, and writing up research assignments for each course! I miss the rush now!

For mentor Dr. Sinclair, herself an OISE alumna, Dr. Siddiqui’s acceptance to OISE – within six months of her arrival in Canada – triggered immense joy and pride in her. “She was determined to be a successful student. She asked many questions, approached her program with an open mind and positive attitude,” says Dr. Sinclair. “Salma went beyond her professional medical comfort zone to research and complete course work and assignments in a totally different area in higher education. She was a keen mentee, always offered to assist and participate in my various OISE and other university and community initiatives.

“As a newcomer to Canada, Salma wanted to learn the Canadian system. She wanted to understand the Canadian culture. She wanted to establish a network and build new connections. Her noteworthy OISE experience as a student and mentee will endure a lifetime.”

Through the OISE mentorship, Dr. Sinclair cultivated a meaningful and collegial relationship with Salma. She introduced Salma to her personal research work on immigrant doctors and a new concept of critical scholarly reflections, social justice and social science education in healthcare. She helped Salma diversify her course and research work to support a long-term career plan. Dr. Sinclair initiated collaborative academic presentations at local and national conferences and engaged Salma in leadership participation with her Immigrant Women Doctors of Color Circle group while taking time to celebrate accomplishments and family and social values.

Proud of her success, Dr. Sinclair has treasured advice for Dr. Siddiqui. “Salma has started some extremely critical work in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion of ethnic minority women immigrant medical doctors in Canada,” she says. “Going forward, I encourage Salma to pursue this new vision and share it with others.”

With an eye to possibly returning for doctoral studies at OISE, Dr. Siddiqui is already taking that advice to heart. “I learned that even though I was a physician for a decade and that was my dream in Canada as well, that there are opportunities to re-imagine myself and explore education and the field of research in a whole new light,” she says.

OISE News sat down with Dr. Siddiqui for a more detailed conversation about her experiences and takeaways. This conversation has been lightly edited for structure and clarity.


How has this Masters journey changed you as a person but more so as someone who cares about education?

Education in a developing country and in West [aren’t exactly] the same. There was a difference in about everything I went through. Right from the way it’s taught, to what was expected. It was intimidating initially and took me an entire Fall 2020 session to understand how to navigate through this. 

The first thing that comes to my mind as how this Master’s program changed me as a person. It made me disrupt my limits and push them. I went from being someone who used to fret on how’ll I do this, to someone who now says ‘Let’s give it all in and do it’! Professor Grace Karam Stephenson’s course encouraged new ways of expression (both on paper and digital technology) and I think that’s the best way to have started it off!

I learned to put forward my ideas and seek feedback! I was encouraged to put forward thoughts, even when those were just thoughts and were not well formulated sentences. I am sure I am a better communicator now. And, I do use this at my workplace as well, I just communicate constantly and welcome ideas! It’s always better to have a discussion than to think alone and overlook or not see the other’s perspective and ideas. This definitely broadens the area of how I think and helps make better decisions. It’s important to include diversified thoughts.

I have come to understand that I can learn and achieve anything that I can believe in! There were difficult times, tough papers and assignments, but it gave me an understanding of how to read, discover and understand and then to try again even if I failed at my first attempt. I have always been a firm believer of continued learning. In the past, I had focused on upgrading knowledge and skills through continued medical education and believe it’s essential in every walk of life. 

You arrived in Canada after practicing family medicine for more than a decade in India. What was it like to come here but not be able to practice? How lost did you feel?

Practicing Family Medicine was life! I had worked hard, overcome many social hindrances to achieve that and was disheartened when I got to know the difficult path and few residency spots for international medical doctors to re-certify in Canada. After realizing the chances of continuing my career as a Family doctor was limited, I felt I was being robbed of my identity. Would I have come here had these steps were clear before immigration, well, the answer is YES, but I would have thought and planned differently.

What did you focus on in your graduate studies? How did you approach this topic and what kind of questions did you want to answer?

I had no idea what OISE Education Program was all about. But, once I was introduced to this new trajectory in education by Dr. Cindy Sinclair, I explored the various options of programs that were offered and chose the Higher Education- Education in Professions Program.

Relationships can be so crucial for someone starting anew – whether it is for one's grad studies and for a newcomer in Canada. You were both! How did relationships help you thrive?

Networking, building and strengthening relationships have been the key factors in thriving as a newcomer! Right from the time I joined  ACCES (settlement service for newcomers) in Canada, I focused on both. That’s where I met Dr. Cindy Sinclair and we connected well in multiple ways! As a mentor, she guided me and helped me navigate and not feel aimless and left out as a newcomer. As a mentee, I have always valued her guidance and feedback and incorporated it for my improvement.

I could have agonized on the fact that I can’t practice here, instead I focused on how else can I     succeed here. Taking the step to come to Canada was done, I couldn’t change that. So, it was better to forget the past, plan and believe in the future!

Professor Ruth Childs took time out to help me understand and decide on the courses that would interest me in the area of Educations in Professions and that’s when I met Professor Patricia Gaviria for my courses on Qualitative Research and Critical Analysis of Research in Higher Education. She was considerate to meet 1-on-1 and clarify doubts on multiple occasions regarding qualitative research and methods. Even though I had an idea of what my final research paper had to be, she encouraged thinking in totality to cover an aspect I had never thought of! That was the part that my made my research complete!

I have taken quite a few courses with Professor Gavin Moodie – he is the person who helped me write my final paper! His feedback on my presentation and paper were extensive. The first paper I had submitted to him had all the points that I wanted to cover, but all jumbled up! I remember he had even highlighted the entire paper into points and then jotted down the points in a systematic way to help me understand how to write a paper better! He used to share links to papers which aligned with my research topic of deskilling of women international medical doctors in Canada and encouraged me to present on this topic in the class.

My mentor, Dr. Cindy Sinclair introduced me to Professor George Dei’s course on anti-colonial thought which gave my paper the theoretical framework to support my thoughts and reasoning. His classes were different, special! There was a lot of discussion and sharing of personal experiences and I built a connection with Dr. Berivan Sarikaya – Professor Dei’s teaching assistant – and had lengthy discussion with her on my research topic and presentations.

Each course I attended, helped me build my network and relationships with fellow colleagues and professors. They were always encouraging and willing to listen! Everyone has played a role and here I am, a few days away from graduating!

What's next for you?

Definitely being a part of OISE Alumni! I look forward to joining the OISE Alumni Association Global Education and Diversity committee to promote Equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives in a global context for the OISE Alumni Association.

From an education perspective, you might see me applying to PhD in the near future!

Who would you like to thank?

I don’t know if there has to be an order in this, but I would start off with Dr. Cindy Sinclair, my mentor. None of this would have been possible, had she not introduced me to this part of education and the different courses available at University of Toronto. She took time to listen, understand, brainstorm and made me believe this is achievable!

Professor Childs, my advisor, who guided me throughout the course, was never reluctant to meet and to listen and address the concerns I had. I would also like to thank her to have changed my program to MEd with research, which helped me on the research work with my fellow women international medical doctors.

The thank would not be complete, if I didn’t thank my family, my parents for their blessings and above all, my husband, Ali, who showed immense faith in me, pushed me to submit the OISE MEd Higher Education application, helped me in the household chores so that I get time enough to do the coursework and work on my assignments, who believed more in me than I did in myself, read and re-read my papers and helped me align my thoughts when I went astray.

Ali, thank you for everything! And to my son, Aariz, 8 years old now, who always reminded me at 5 p.m. that the class would start and I need to log out from work!

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