Faces of U of T Medicine: Sheza Qayyum

Aug 23, 2018
Julia Soudat

There was no “aha!” moment for Sheza Qayyum that made her realize she wanted to be a doctor. She’s always been interested in science and her curiosity and desire to help others led her to medicine. As she gets ready to start medical school this year, she reflects on her journey and offers advice to those hoping to pursue medicine.

What made you want to become a doctor?

The more I learned, the more I realized that this profession is a combination of everything I love – teaching, solving puzzles, science, research, lifelong learning, leadership and even political advocacy. On top of all that, it’s a career built on the foundation of improving, saving and extending lives.

I volunteered for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for 3 years and that taught me how valuable and unique the doctor-patient relationship is. I feel extremely lucky to be able to form this precious relationship with my patients one day, especially during this era of patient-centred care.

How did it feel when you got your acceptance letter?

I was in the middle of a shift at a retail store that I’ve worked at for 3 years. I ran to the storage area in our stock room and cried. I called my family, then ran around the store delivering the good news to all my coworkers. Getting into medical school was a dream for me and the best part of it all was making my parents proud. Seriously – I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to them.

How did your parents react?

My parents are both medical doctors. They received their education in Pakistan. However, once we immigrated to Canada nine years ago, they were no longer able to practice. Although medicine was never something they tried forcing upon me, it was a dream come true for them to see their daughter practice what they couldn’t here. For them, it made all the sacrifices they made to move to this country worth it. So, my acceptance letter is something we will cherish forever as a family.

What are you most looking forward to as a UofTMed student?

I’m excited to meet my amazing classmates and for everything U of T has to offer! I haven’t even started yet, but I’m already in awe of all the help I have received thus-far. I look forward to learning everything about the practice of medicine, how to be the best doctor I can be for my patients and their families, and figuring out what to specialize in.

What do you think the biggest challenges will be?

I think believing that I have “what it takes” will be one of the bigger challenges. Medical school, residency and practice will require a lot of endurance. It’s easy to doubt yourself during times of exhaustion and immense responsibilities.

The imposter syndrome is so real. Although it’s been months since I received my acceptance letter, every time I receive another email from U of T, I think, “Oh no! They’re informing me that they made a mistake!”

However, I hope to capture all my excitement and gratitude, store it and use it as motivation during the long and gruelling shifts when I’m hungry, exhausted and anxious about not knowing enough.

What do you like to do outside of school?

My two favourite hobbies are attending concerts and trying new foods, so I’m very excited about attending medical school in Toronto. You can try out a different restaurant every day and still not run out of new places to visit at the end of the year – there are so many options here!

Aside from that, I enjoy cooking and baking for other people. I wish I could pretend that going to the gym or some sort of sport is in my list of hobbies. Unless binge-watching Netflix is a sport – then it’s definitely that.

What advice would you give to those who want to pursue medicine?

Don’t give up! It can be a long and tough journey but if you truly believe that medicine is right for you, work as hard as you can until you are right for medicine as well. Don’t get too focused on comparing yourself to others. There will always be someone with a higher GPA, MCAT score, or more ‘impressive’ extracurricular activities. But that does not reflect on your ability to be a great doctor.

If you belong to a group that is underrepresented in medicine, it can be even more daunting. There can be numerous barriers, such as not knowing anyone in medicine that you see yourself in. Don’t let that discourage you from pursuing your goals. Having diverse experiences and empathy towards patients and colleagues from underserved communities will make you a better doctor.


Faces of U of T Medicine introduces you to some of the interesting people studying in the Faculty of Medicine. From advising political leaders to providing care to Toronto’s most vulnerable populations, members of our community are having an impact at home and around the world.

Do you have an interesting story to share? Contact us at medicine.communications@utoronto.ca.