Change agents in health care: CMA presents recipients of 2020 CMA Awards

Press Release

Today the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to announce its 2020 CMA Award recipients. This award program is an annual recognition of individuals who’ve made an exceptional contribution to medicine or the health care system. The 16 award recipients will be officially recognized during a virtual ceremony later this year.

“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen the impact health workers have in our lives. When you look at the list of award recipients, I’m humbled by what they’ve accomplished and thank them for their outstanding contributions to our health and our health care system.” – Dr. Sandy Buchman, CMA president

The 2020 CMA recipients are:

  • Mohammad Asadi-Lari – Posthumous Singular Award of Merit: This posthumous award celebrates the life of Mohammad Asadi-Lari, one of 176 people on board the ill-fated Ukraine International Airlines flight 752. A second-year medical student at the University of Toronto, Asadi-Lari was recognized early on as an exceptional young leader with a passion for population health, science education and innovation in health. He co-founded STEM Fellowship, a youth-led non-profit aimed at expanding education in science, tech, engineering and math starting in high school. He also co-founded the Canadian Association of Physician Innovators and Entrepreneurs, the first national network connecting physicians interested in innovation to transform health care.
  • Dr. Vladimir Hachinski – F.N.G. Starr Award: When you hear the term “brain attack” you have Dr. Vladimir Hachinski to thank. He was among the first physicians to reinforce the urgency of getting treatment for strokes — spearheading public awareness campaigns on how early intervention can dramatically improve outcomes. Along with his colleague Dr. John W. Norris, he established the world’s first successful acute stroke unit, in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. Their protocol of early intervention complemented by early rehabilitation remains the standard of care today. Dr. Hachinski and his team are now looking into how environmental factors affect stroke risk.
  • André Picard – Owen Adams Award of Honour: A self-described translator of health and medical knowledge, The Globe and Mail journalist André Picard has shaped the national discussion on the issues that affect our health care system for more than 30 years. Picard is known for bringing together the political and medical in a way that resonates with readers and brings about policy change. His work exposing the tainted blood scandal was a pivotal moment in health care reporting, helping spur a public inquiry that resulted in dramatic changes in drug regulation and billions of dollars in compensation for victims.
  • Dr. France Légaré – Dr. Léo-Paul Landry Medal of Service: A passionate advocate for patient engagement and empowerment, Dr. France Légaré was a trailblazer in recognizing the need for patients to have a say in their own treatment. In the 1990s, when she first raised the idea for a patient decision aid tool, the medical establishment scoffed, but her persistence and research have now made shared decision-making an effective patient–physician practice. She is also a prolific author on the subject, providing evidence to support the increased integration of shared decision-making into medical education, policy and health system reform.
  • Colonel (Retired) Ian Anderson, MD – John McCrae Memorial Medal: Dr. Ian Anderson’s deployment as a military surgeon in the Canadian Armed Forces shaped a lifelong desire to better protect our troops in the field. His international committee work with NATO, combined with multiple deployments to Afghanistan, led to new insights on the effects of landmine explosions and to the development of protective gear for Canadian soldiers. Dr. Anderson retired from the military in 2012 and from active surgical practice in 2019. He continues to teach trauma care at the University of Calgary.
  • Dr. Najma Ahmed – Sir Charles Tupper Award for Political Advocacy: In July 2018, Dr. Najma Ahmed was on call the night of Toronto’s tragic Greektown shooting. Two people were killed and 13 others were wounded, with Dr. Ahmed operating on three of the victims. What she saw that night motivated Dr. Ahmed to form a grassroots physicians group called Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG). The group called for gun control to be reframed as a public health issue, not a property matter, and Dr. Ahmed’s work on Bill C-71, on behalf of CDPG, was instrumental in the reclassification of 150 types of semi-automatic rifles. Dr. Ahmed and CDPG are now working on a national strategy to strengthen Bill C-71 for semi-automatic handguns.
  • Dr. Gurdeep Parhar – Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics and Professionalism: A longtime advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion in the medical profession, Dr. Gurdeep Parhar is a guiding light for health professionals confronted with difficult ethical dilemmas. Colleagues are commonly known to ask, “What would Dr. Parhar do?” His forward-thinking philosophy of professionalism dismisses traditional biases, instead emphasizing fair treatment for all, including marginalized and traditionally underserved populations. Known for his large Twitter following, Dr. Parhar led the development of a social responsibility and accountability framework for the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine and had the foresight to create social media guidelines at a time when many physicians were just beginning to engage on public platforms.
  • Dr. Vanessa Maclean – May Cohen Award for Women Mentors: In 2017, Dr. Vanessa Maclean conducted a review of the female physician leadership experience in Alberta. What she uncovered was eye opening, namely the underrepresentation of women in health care leadership positions and the barriers many still faced in achieving those roles. In the end, many of the recommendations in the seminal report that resulted from her review were implemented by Alberta Health Services (AHS), and today Dr. Maclean continues to practise what she preaches, actively mentoring emerging physician leaders to develop their leadership skills.
  • Elisa Levi – Dr. Brian Brodie Medical Learner Leadership Award: Elisa Levi has spent her entire working life seeking ways to make a difference. Starting out as a dietitian, she’s now midway through medical school, with the goal of becoming a family physician. As an Anishinaabe member of Chippewas of Nawash First Nation and with roots in Elsipogtog First Nation, she sees “significant opportunity to improve health equity that is grounded in Indigenous world views.” She helped develop the First Nations guiding principles for the use and implementation of Canada’s new food guide and was part of the team that developed an Indigenous cancer strategy. After her 2021 graduation, Levi plans to work with rural patients, possibly in her home community on the Bruce Peninsula.
  • Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers – Dr. Brian Brodie Medical Learner Leadership Award: In 2012, few people in the world were talking about the impact of climate change on health. Still a medical student at the time, Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers was one of them. Since then she has used her voice and thought leadership to underscore the undeniable link between climate change and health. An internationally renowned advocate and coalition builder, Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers is chair of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and is currently completing a master’s degree in environmental studies as part of the clinician scholar program at the CLSC des Faubourgs in Montreal.
  • Niharika Shahi – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Student): Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Dr. Niharika Shahi learned early in her medical career that unique health conditions could affect unique communities. As a result, she’s worked with community-based organizations to raise awareness about the population health needs specific to Northern Ontario. These include addressing the opioid crisis, improving access to mental health services for Indigenous youth and providing education about human trafficking. As chair of northern and rural medical student engagement for the Ontario Medical Association, her advocacy around better access to physician events has resulted in the live streaming of important conferences and talks. Dr. Shahi plans to complete a radiology residency in Hamilton and then return to Northern Ontario to serve her community.
  • Dr. Naheed Dosani – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Early Career): Working with Toronto’s homeless during his final year of residency was a turning point for Dr. Naheed Dosani, as he witnessed the huge equity gap in palliative care access for the homeless and vulnerably housed. In July 2014, after completing residency, he launched a transformative program bringing palliative care access to society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people. PEACH (Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless) has been replicated in communities across Canada and gave birth to the Good Wishes program, which grants special opportunities for vulnerable patients at the end of life..
  • Dr. Vanessa Poliquin – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Early Career): Early in her career as an obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Vanessa Poliquin became acutely aware of how little was known about the intersection of pregnancy and infectious disease. Determined to close this knowledge gap, Dr. Poliquin connected several Canadian reproductive infectious disease experts, helping establish a training program at the University of Manitoba. Today, she’s one of Canada’s leading authorities on reproductive infectious disease and was a sought-after expert during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. She continues to lead regional and national working groups to ensure prenatal providers have the most evidence-informed guidance as the situation around COVID-19 evolves.
  • Dr. Anthea Lafreniere – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Resident): Dr. Anthea Lafreniere learned early on how the world of medical politics could improve outcomes of care. This passion for creating change has led her to a wide range of projects, from helping design web applications for patient empowerment, to early career leadership positions in the country’s most influential medical organizations. When her residency is over, Dr. Lafreniere plans to complete a fellowship is pediatric pathology.
  • Dr. Kimberly Williams – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Resident): Community building is ingrained in Dr. Kimberly Williams’ philosophy of life: “If we want to build strong communities, we need to make sure those who are struggling get the help they need.” That commitment inspired her to pursue a medical career — and to find ways to improve people’s health and well-being outside of medicine. Her achievements include creating guidelines for equitable accommodations for medical trainees with a disability and co-founding Kolabo, a University of Calgary-based collaborative aimed at expanding psychiatric training in the Mwanza region of Tanzania. Dr. Williams is currently transitioning into her final year of training as a neuropsychiatry fellow..
  • Vivian Tsang – CMA Award for Young Leaders (Student): Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a part of the city many avoid. Not Vivian Tsang. Fuelled by a strong commitment to justice and a belief that everyone deserves equitable health care access, Tsang was still in high school when she launched her own non-profit, the Humanitarian Organization for Providing Empowerment (HOPE). Internationally recognized and supported by the Clinton Foundation, HOPE’s community-based initiatives include providing peer-to-peer mentorship for at-risk youth, offering workshops on menstrual/sexual hygiene and providing winter supplies to the homeless. As a medical student at the University of British Columbia, Tsang was able to build on this grassroots work during an internship with the World Health Organization, where she collaborated on an initiative to prevent the spread of HIV and tuberculosis in Zimbabwe and South Africa.


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