In honour of the Champlain Saint-Lambert’s 50th anniversary, the college has followed up with 50 of its alumni to see where their paths have led after their time in Cegep. These 50 former students have gone on to accomplish amazing things and their paths show just how much is possible for a Champlain grad.
This Montreal doctor is an author and activist fighting for Indigenous rights in the medical system.
Dr. Samir Shaheen-Hussain is a pediatric emergency physician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor (Department of Pediatrics) in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences at McGill University.
He has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of Indigenous children in the medical system and has authored a book called Fighting for A Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada (2020).
Shaheen-Hussain (Health Sciences, 1998) said he discovered a passion for medicine once he started his degree, but said that becoming a doctor hadn’t always been his goal.
“When I applied to university from Champlain, my first choice was physiotherapy, with a focus on athletics. However, I was also encouraged to apply to medicine, and so when I was offered a spot at McGill, I decided that it would be foolish of me not to accept,” he said.
During his Cegep years, Shaheen-Hussain was involved in campus life as a member of the theatre club and a competitor in the annual Powerlifting Competition. He credits the education he received at Champlain with helping to develop his critical thinking skills and reinforcing his interest in writing.
“My overall experience at Champlain allowed me to gain self-confidence and develop a more grounded sense of who I was at the time,” he said.
In medical school at McGill Shaheen-Hussain became socially and politically engaged during hands-on clinical rotations outside of Montreal.
“After my first year of medical school, I was part of a group volunteer elective in a pediatric hospital in Rabat, Morocco. During my third year, I did my family-medicine rotation at a community hospital in Sioux Lookout (northern Ontario), which serves several Indigenous communities, including some that were only accessible by plane,” he said.
“All of these experiences made me aware of both local and global injustices. They politicized me, and played a significant role in transforming my worldview.”
Shaheen-Hussain said he witnessed and personally experienced “racist backlash against people perceived to be Arab or Muslim following the 9/11 attacks in the United States” and felt drawn to get involved in “anti-authoritarian social justice movements – including Indigenous solidarity, anti-police brutality and migrant-justice organizing”.
In his work at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Shaheen-Hussain has firsthand experience dealing with patients and families from Indigenous communities in northern Quebec who are flown to Montreal for medical care.
Since the 1980s, the Quebec government had a rule of separating children from their families during these medical evacuation airlifts.
This practice was stopped in 2018 because of the #aHand2Hold campaign that Shaheen-Hussain and other healthcare providers launched that year.
In his book, Fighting for A Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada, Shaheen-Hussain writes about the Canadian medical establishment’s role in the displacement, colonization, and genocide of Indigenous Peoples.
“The book argues that this history and ongoing medical colonialism prevents Indigenous communities from attaining internationally recognized measures of health and social well-being because of a pervasive culture of systemic anti-Indigenous racism,” he said.
On top of his work in the hospital and his contribution as an author, Shaheen-Hussain has done many media interviews pushing for changes to the way Indigenous patients (particularly children) are treated by the healthcare system.
Shaheen-Hussain’s advice for current students and recent grads: “We live in a time that is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety about our collective future, including that of the planet’s ability to sustain human life. We cannot rely on the same economic and social systems that have gotten us into this mess over the last few centuries. We will all have to think creatively, courageously, and collaboratively to carve out new possibilities, making sure that no one is left behind. I wish I had been better clued in to these issues when I was at Champlain. But, I am inspired by the many students who are!
Regardless of the path students decide to take after CEGEP, what is clear to me is that we need to work together to build a new world where being empathetic, emphasizing cooperation, mutual aid, and solidarity, respecting human dignity, and living in harmony with the environment become core values.”