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Resident Profiles

Dr. Benjamin van der Woerd, PGY3

After completing a semester of high school in Belize where he had an opportunity to shadow local doctors, Dr. van der Woerd knew that he wanted to pursue medicine as a career. It wasn’t until he completed several observerships and electives in Otolaryngology that he knew that specialty was the right one for him.

Why did you choose Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and why did you choose the program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University?

Being from a regional campus at McMaster University, I had a lot of exposure to community otolaryngology. I chose Schulich Medicine & Dentistry for its strong reputation throughout the specialty and because it is so well regarded in all clinical subspecialties.

What has been the most important lesson you have learned in the past five-10 years that continues to stay with you as your pursue your educational and professional goals?

Work hard. Time and effort spent preparing and working hard is something I’ve always had control over, and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

How would you describe your experience with Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – so far?

My experience so far has been excellent. High volume, hands-on exposure. It’s been a pleasure to be on-service full-time working with the other residents and staff in our program.

What has been your most interesting experience so far? What are you most looking forward to?

My most interesting experience to date has been a trans-oral removal of a bullet from a patient’s retropharynx. I’m looking forward to increasing surgical responsibility as I progress in the program.

How do you maintain balance between your residency and personal pursuits?

My wife and I both enjoy woodworking. So we always have a few projects on the go. We recently built a dining table, bench, and sliding barn door for our home. It’s important to us to plan our time accordingly so as not to let these important hobbies collect dust.

 

Dr. Hannah Ernst, PGY2

Born in Calgary and raised throughout Canada and the United States, Dr. Ernst is a purple and proud Western University alumna having completed her undergraduate and medical studies at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. She chose to pursue Otolaryngology not only because of the fascinating and intricate anatomy, but because of the personal nature and often identity-defining area of the body that it encompasses. “What an exciting privilege to be trusted with operating on someone’s smile or larynx,” she said. “The variety of procedures, technology, and body systems involved promise a lifetime of excitement.”

Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

Honestly, I have wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. After I decided that I’d never make it as an actress or the next Barbara Walters, I was the kid who dressed up as a doctor for Halloween every year. I had dreams of helping people through difficult and life-threatening situations, so being a physician was a natural career choice that seemed to cater to all of my passions.

I have been so fortunate to have had amazing role models in medicine through the entirety of my life. They model the kind of physician that I’ve always wanted to be: compassionate, skilled, and visionaries. Specifically, both of my parents have modeled that passion, combining it with excellence and dedication which helps sustain a medical career that not only is exciting but widely impactful. They’ve encouraged and supported me every step of this journey.

What has been the most important lesson you have learned in the past five-10 years that continues to stay with you as you pursue your educational and professional goals?

I’d say just clearly figuring out what my priorities are and knowing that my career is not who I am but rather an expression of who I am- that means I can grow from mistakes and criticism rather than be torn down, I can work hard, cultivate big dreams and just be me, enjoying every moment.

How would you describe your experience with Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – so far?

It has been amazing. At Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, the group of staff and residents really do make you feel like you’re a part of a team. One of the most enjoyable things in residency so far, (apart from taking out my very first tonsils) has just been getting to know our resident team better. I know that such a great group is hard to come by and I am so thankful for them.

How do you maintain balance between your residency and personal pursuits?

I am so lucky to have most of my loved ones close by. I can go visit on short notice and that is a big part of me keeping ‘balanced’. I prioritize seeing my family, attending church groups and functions, as well as personal fitness because those things are really important to me; they refresh me and keep me sane. Otherwise, most of my extra-curricular activities have just been scaled back from what they were before starting residency.

 

Dr. Neil Mundi, PGY4

Dr. Mundi is a Western alumnus, completing his undergraduate medical studies at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. He knew he wanted to pursue Otolaryngology the first day he was in a Head and Neck cancer operating room during his first year of medical school. “Seeing a maxillectomy and free flap reconstruction for the first time was one of the most eye-opening experiences I had ever had,” he said. “I remember leaving the hospital that day thinking, I need to learn how to do that.”

Why did you decide to pursue medicine?

I decided to pursue medicine because I always had an interest in physiology, pharmacology and anatomy. One specific experience that inspired me greatly was volunteering with HIV patients in Costa Rica. Being a part of their care was a privilege, and was a major driver toward applying to medical school.

What has been your most rewarding experience to date in your residency?

Being involved in a patient’s care from the moment he came to the emergency department with airway obstruction, to diagnosing him with cancer, to his laryngectomy and to seeing him in follow-up doing well. Being able to not only save peoples’ lives acutely, but also to ensure that they will go on to live many more years with good quality of life is why I get out of bed in the morning.

What has been the most challenging experience to date in your residency?

Dealing with terminal diagnoses is always a challenge and one that I face frequently in my residency. Disclosing such diagnoses to patients and their families never gets easier but I am always inspired by their strength and determination to face their disease no matter the prognosis.

What learning from your undergraduate medical education or early residency do you return to often now as you are pursuing your residency?

Time management is something I am always striving to perfect in residency. Like all of my peers, I find that residency can become more than a job, consuming the majority of my thoughts and worries. However, I was taught early on in my training by my seniors and staff to always make time for my hobbies and interests outside of work. While it remains a struggle to do so at times, I’ve never forgotten their advice.

How do you maintain balance in your life?

The gym is my sanctuary. I always try to find time to get workouts in even if they’re brief. Being able to focus on something entirely outside of residency really helps to keep things in perspective. Carving out time from my schedule to spend time with family and friends is always a priority, and traveling is a passion of mine. I try to visit a new destination every time I take a week of vacation. Experiencing a culture completely alien to me is something I really enjoy and I couldn’t ask for a better travel partner than my fiancé.

 

Dr. Rakhna Araslanova, PGY5

Dr. Rakhna Araslanova lived in Kirov, Russia before moving to Canada with her family. She attended Dalhousie University graduating with a University Medal and Honors in Microbiology and Immunology. During her undergraduate studies she pursued theatre and acting courses. She says that her most memorable moments at Dalhousie come from being a part-time stage actress.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

A career in medicine has been on my radar for many years, yet I explored other options before seriously pursing it. At the start of my undergraduate degree I was more interested in a career in microbiology and research. Working with clinicians during my undergraduate degree is what initially motivated me actively pursue medicine. These clinicians were my role models as they could transfer research findings to significantly impact patient’s lives.

Why did you choose Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and why did you choose the program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University?

While in medical school I was looking for a specialty that combined both medicine and surgery. Inspired by my mother’s successes in Maternal Fetal Medicine, early on as a medical student I became focused on a career in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Although I enjoyed Gynecology and prospects of complex pelvic floor reconstruction as an Urogynecologist, I promptly discovered that Obstetrics was certainly not my calling during third year clerkship rotations.

I then turned my career aspirations toward Otolaryngology after spending time with Dr Lamothe, who is a head and neck surgeon in Ottawa. As I further explored the specialty through electives, it became apparent to me that head and neck surgery complemented my interest in intricate reconstruction. I am thankful for an unparalleled experience in all domains of this diverse specialty. Certainly, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Otolaryngology program serves a strong platform for learning key techniques of endoscopic sinus, microscopic ear and laryngeal surgery along with oncologic ablation and facial trauma.

What has been the most important lesson you have learned in the past 5-10 years that continues to stay with you as your pursue your educational and professional goals?

I continue to appreciate the power of open-mindedness. Finding yourself at the right place at the right time is partially dependent on the ability to be open for these opportunities.

How would you describe your experience with Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – so far?

Certainly, the breadth of this specialty fosters innovation, collaboration and mentorship. Most notably, over the past four years this technically demanding specialty humbled me. Through careful guidance and excellent example set forward by our faculty, I am gradually overcoming the clinical and surgical challenges of Otolaryngology training.

What has been your most interesting experience so far? What are you most looking forward to?

As a senior resident, I now appreciate how quickly postgraduate training goes by. I am most looking forward to the opportunities to learn from our talented faculty and using my last year to absorb as much clinical and surgical skill as possible.

How do you maintain balance between your residency and personal pursuits?

I feel very fortunate to have had many opportunities to develop diverse artistic pursuits growing up which included acting, music and painting. Although I am no longer on theatrical stage, at Western University I have had a lot of opportunities to present locally at Grand Rounds as well as at national and international conferences. Currently, painting allows me to continue expressing myself artistically. Accordingly, being able to display my art pieces in local galleries brings an additional sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.