Sayra Cristancho

(519) 661-2111 Ex. 89253
HSA Room 114
Google Scholar Link


Current Appointments

Scientist, Centre for Education Research & Innovation
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery and Faculty of Education
Faculty member, Institute for Earth and Space Exploration

Educational Background

PhD, Mechanical (Biomedical) Engineering, University of British Columbia
MSc, Electrical Engineering, Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia
BSc, Electronics Engineering, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia

Why Medical Education?

Through the wisdom of his 86-year-old life, my grandfather told me once that "opportunities don't happen, you create them". During my PhD, I focused my research on designing a tool to measure hand dexterity in surgeons.  While spending many hours in the operating room testing the tool, I had the chance of informally observing how surgical teams work. I noticed minimal verbal communication and wondered how residents managed to learn without being "taught". As an engineer, that was a very different and almost strange way of learning. I quickly realized that workplace-based teaching and learning was a fascinating multi-dimensional phenomenon influenced by a myriad of interpersonal, team and organizational factors. There I saw the opportunity to bring engineering systems thinking to medical education in order to understand how teams adapt to high-stakes situations. Even though my background seemed out of place, I am grateful for this community's willingness to welcome different ways of thinking.

What Are Your Most Rewarding Career Moments?

When I moved to Canada to pursue my PhD, my plan was to return to Colombia upon completion. As life has taught me many times, plans are merely a sketch that needs to be revised quite often. Once I decided to immigrate to Canada, my biggest doubt was whether I had what it took to succeed as an academic in the North American context. Therefore, it might not come as a surprise that my most rewarding career moment has been to join Western and CERI as a scientist and tenured faculty. Other very rewarding moments stemmed from this success and includes receiving CIHR funding during the first two years of my appointment and having the opportunity to deliver a number of keynotes internationally. Since I immigrated to Canada, it has been an exciting journey into the unknown with both successes and failures that have shaped the scientist that I am today.

What Is Your Approach to Mentorship?

Mentorship has become an integral component of my professional vocabulary. I have been fortunate to have had key influential people in my life (both personally and professionally) who through their example have shown me the way. As such, my approach to mentorship is guided by 5 core values: candidness, mutual respect, active listening, powerful questioning and reciprocity. I am both a mentor and a mentee. As a mentor, nothing excites me more than when a mentee comes with a positive mindset and embraces the commitment to act on even the most critical feedback. As a mentee, I highly value when my mentors share their vulnerabilities and tell it to me the way it is.

Key Research Questions

  • What are the dynamics that enable action teams (e.g., trauma, SWAT, emergency response, extreme exploration, business) to adapt during high stakes situations?
  • What are the conditions that hinder or promote collective adaptation in action teams across different industries?
  • How does self-healing manifest in action teams across different industries?


Collective Adaptation; Self-Healing Teams; Swarm Intelligence; Systems Thinking; High-Stakes