Alumni Profile: Nisanthini (Nisha) Ravichandiran


Graduate Name: Nisanthini (Nisha) Ravichandiran                                            
Year of completion: 2020                            
Supervisor(s): Dr. Bridget Ryan and Dr. Maria Mathews                                               
Thesis Title: Utilization of Healthcare by Immigrants in Canada: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Canadian Community Health Survey
Thesis link to UWO repository:           
Research Project / Major Essay Titles:     

Tell me a little about you.

I am a family physician in a multicultural community in Scarborough, Ontario.  My interests outside of medicine include painting, running, and reading. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Sri Lanka, and came to Canada with my family when I was five years old.  I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario.  It was always my dream to return to where I grew up to practice medicine.  I saw the barriers that my family experienced to accessing health care when I was growing up.  On the flip side, I also saw the incredible positive impact that physicians who valued and respected their patients could have on their patients’ lives. 

What degree(s) do you have, and from what universities?

I completed by Bachelor of Science in Human Biology at the University of Toronto, and my MD at Western University. I then completed my Family Medicine residency at McMaster University, and was so excited to returned to Western University for my Master of Clinical Science in Family Medicine.

Where do you practice medicine and in what scope? What are your research interests?

I practice Family Medicine in Scarborough, as part of a multidisciplinary family health team.  I also teach residents at the Scarborough site of Family Medicine at University of Toronto.  My research interests include access to healthcare for immigrants and the role of technology in patient care.  

What special interests or hobbies do you have?

I love to paint, and this is my main creative outlet. When I feel overwhelmed by the demands of clinical medicine, I love to just put paintbrush to canvas. I think that my interest in art helps me to be a better physician, because it helps me to really see and hear the stories that patients have to tell.  I don’t think you can really hear someone’s story without using the creative part of your mind.  And if you don’t see or hear their story, you don’t really know your patient. 

Why did you choose to pursue a MCISc/PhD in the Department of Family Medicine at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?

As I was completing my Family Medicine residency, I knew that I needed something more.  I felt prepared for the clinical aspects of medicine, but I felt that my career would not be complete if I gave up the academic aspect of Family Medicine.  To me, research represents the need to ask questions and challenge the status quo. I knew that the MClSc program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry was the right fit for me, because it gave me the opportunity to interact with other physicians and researchers who were equally passionate about family medicine. 

Is there an experience of your time in the program that stands out for you, an “ah hah” moment?

I remember conversations I had with fellow students and professors about Family Medicine as a specialty.  This was an eye-opening moment for me because it helped me to see Family Medicine in a new light. It helped me to see that family physicians play such a vital role in the healthcare system in Canada, and we do a disservice to our patients and our learners if we do not recognize our own value, both as a clinical specialty and as an academic field of study.

How do the writings and the person of Dr. Ian McWhinney influence your work in your career overall?

Dr. McWhinney set the path for all family physicians, and by defining the principles of Family Medicine, he created a special place for Family Medicine within Canada, that is unique from many other healthcare systems.  Primary care is important around the world, but through his work, Dr. McWhinney created a new type of primary care and defined the role for Family Medicine for future generations.

What has been your greatest experience to date in your teaching/research career?

My Masters’ thesis has been my most fulfilling experience in research, because for me, it was a full circle moment.  From my early childhood aspirations to become a physician, to becoming a family physician serving the community where I grew up, to researching the barriers that immigrants like my family and so many others face to accessing healthcare.  When I defended my thesis, I felt like I had ended up exactly where I belonged.  And I am so thankful to the Master of Clinical Science program at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry for the opportunity to complete this circle. 

What are your thoughts about the patient-centered clinical method as it relates to teaching, research, and clinical practice?

To me, the patient-centered clinical method is about seeing and hearing the stories that patients have to tell.  Not just diagnosing or treating a disease, but seeing the patient sitting in front of you as a person with a rich life story.  This is an incredibly difficult skill to teach, but I think it is one of the most important skills we can model to our students.  And when it comes to research, I think that patient-centered aspect is what drives us to ask questions and challenge the status quo.  Most researchers I have met were driven to their field of research by a patient’s story, whether this was a patient they encountered in clinical practice or in their personal lives. 

What MClSc / PhD learning have you incorporated into your family medicine practice as a result of the program?

The biggest change for me has been how I myself view Family Medicine. The MClSc has helped me to really appreciate the value of Family Medicine. The past two years of the pandemic have been difficult ones for all healthcare professionals, and it is easy to lose faith. The program has helped me to keep in sight the value of the work that I am doing every day when I go in to clinic. 

Tell us about your experience in developing your research idea for your thesis / RP/ME.

I started the program with a completely different idea for my research thesis. However, at the time, I was also practicing Family Medicine in a very multicultural community with many recent and established immigrants.  I had many moments of disbelief when I realized the almost insurmountable barriers that many patients had faced to even arriving in my clinic room.  I felt there was a story there to uncover.  And that is when I realized that I needed to do research about utilization of healthcare by immigrants.

Please describe the role of your supervisor in completing your thesis work, RP / ME.

Dr. Bridget Ryan and Dr. Maria Mathews were the absolute best supervisors anyone could have asked for. They helped me develop my research idea from the vague question I had to a complete research project.  What I most appreciated about them is that they encouraged me to be a self-directed learner while providing me the support I needed.

Has your teaching/research changed as a result of the MClSc / PhD program?

I absolutely feel that I am a better teacher because of the program. I started the program when I was fresh out of my Family Medicine residency, and I had limited teaching experience.  Completing the program while taking on learners helped me to be introspective about my teaching strategies and the learner’s needs.  Because of the program, I felt that I had a theoretical foundation for being a good teacher.  In terms of research, the program provided me with exactly what I was looking for, which is the skills to develop a research question and then follow it through to completion.

What would you consider the single most important benefit of the MClSc / PhD program?

For me, the greatest benefit was the opportunity to meet and work with others who are equally as passionate about the academic side of Family Medicine. This experience has completely changed my career trajectory, for the better.