It has been an exciting and whirlwind year and a half for Northern Medical Program student Sukhmeet Sachal.
In addition to being accepted into the NMP’s Class of 2023 last fall, he was honoured as Emerging Leader for British Columbia and the North, in addition to receiving a BC Achievement Community Award. He was also named one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders.
Most recently, Sukhmeet has received a grant from the Clinton Foundation as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) COVID-19 Student Action Fund. With this support, he will be seeking to implement public health interventions at Sikh temples in B.C. to protect elderly patrons and the general public.
All of these awards and accolades are underpinned by Sukhmeet’s desire to help others and make a difference, which has led him to develop a variety of projects that range from nurturing mental and physical health to expanding youth connections and combating stigma.
“My activism stems from my religion and my parents,” says Sukhmeet, who grew up in Surrey B.C. after he and his family emigrated to Canada in 2002. “In Sikhism, there is a concept known as Seva, which means selfless service. Since I can remember, my father has instilled this concept within me, and my mother has always shown me the importance of hard work and determination.”
Break the Divide (BTD) is one of Sukhmeet’s most recent initiatives. Launched in 2017 and now operating in more than ten countries, it helps foster cross-cultural dialogue amongst youth around climate change and mental wellness. He was inspired to develop the program, together with his brother, after he spent six months in Inuvik exploring the effects of climate change on Inuit lifestyle while also volunteering as a math and sciences tutor with Indigenous high school students.
“BTD initially started as videoconference exchanges between students in the Northwest Territories and in Delta B.C.,” notes Sukhmeet. “It has grown tremendously. The program has been very impactful in fostering friendships across countries and helping young people in personifying big global challenges into small actionable tasks after seeing how these problems affect their friends.”
Other initiatives Sukhmeet has pursued include founding the Road 2 Wellness Foundation with a focus on raising organ donation awareness and providing medical-related assistance to third world countries; building a program in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to provide blood pressure clinics in English and Punjabi at temples in B.C.; and speaking at various health-related conferences to share his experiences as an activist. He has also worked with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) as a Health and Wellness Ambassador during his first year of studies at the NMP and recently took part in an online campaign this summer to support youth mental health in conjunction with the CMA and jack.org.
Now one year into his medical education journey, Sukhmeet is reflective on how far he has come and the many opportunities to help others that still lie ahead on the professional path he has chosen.
“Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to travel around the world from the Arctic to India to Uganda to look at how health care is different. Through these experiences, I have learned that good health does not result only from the services available, but rather from the social determinants of health including housing, education, and historical trauma and oppression to name a few.
“I feel there needs to be upstream approaches to reduce disparities and increase the health and development of individuals and communities. All of these learning opportunities have led me to desire a career as a rural physician, with hopes to continue helping vulnerable and marginalized communities.”
“We are very proud to have passionate individuals such as Sukhmeet pursuing their studies at the Northern Medical Program,” says Dr. Paul Winwood, Associate Vice President, NMP, UNBC and Regional Associate Dean, Northern BC, UBC Faculty of Medicine. “Our NMP team is continually learning about different initiatives that students are involved in and it is amazing and heart-warming to hear about the many ways in which they are striving to make a difference in the world.”