Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, Inuk, to train as heart surgeon

One of the next cardiac surgery residents at the Ottawa Hospital will be an Inuk woman with roots in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut.

'I’m a proud Inuk woman. I identify myself as Inuit and I’m very proud of that'

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk with three aunts: Mary, Elizabeth and Helen Kreelak. Though she grew up in Ottawa, her family has roots in Chesterfield Inlet and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. Now, she's on her way to becoming a cardiac surgeon. (submitted by Donna May Kimmaliardjuk)

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk knew she was interested in surgery long before she started studying to be a doctor.

“I thought that I would really like the idea of working with my hands,” she says.

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, centre, holds a baby she delivered. (Courtesy Donna May Kimmaliardjuk)
This summer, after graduating from medical training at the University of Calgary, she’ll begin the six-year process of learning to be a cardiac surgeon at the Ottawa Hospital.

“You’re working with your hands, you’re working long hours, but the nice thing is that patients feel better after their operations.”

Kimmaliardjuk's mother, Julia Kimmaliardjuk, says Donna was a great pianist when she was young and initially wanted to be a musician, until she was eight and a career in medicine began calling. 

In Inuktitut, Julia told the CBC she's "very proud" of her daughter. 

Though Kimmaliardjuk spent most of her childhood in Ottawa, she has extended family in Rankin Inlet and Chesterfield Inlet and clearly hasn’t forgotten her roots.

“I’m a proud Inuk woman,” she says. “I identify myself as Inuit and I’m very proud of that. To be a part of my culture is something that’s important to me.”

As an undergraduate student at Queen’s University, Kimmaliardjuk served as president of the Native Students Association.

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk with her mom, Julie Kimmaliardjuk, at Bow Falls in Alberta. (Courtesy Donna May Kimmaliardjuk )
“There are not many self-identified aboriginals at Queen’s,” she says. “It just wasn’t something that was really celebrated or recognized.”

For Kimmaliardjuk, the group was almost like a second family. “It was a really supportive environment that really helped me get through those stressful times and difficult times.”

And while she has no immediate plans to travel North, Kimmaliardjuk does harbour dreams of sharing her story with other young people.

In particular, she wants to talk about the importance of education.

"It really is the key to opening so many doors and to opening so many opportunities. It can really lead you down some exciting paths in life.”

Her advice?

“Just do what makes you happy,” she says. “And I would really hope that what makes you happy is also reaching your full potential. Not everyone is meant to be a heart surgeon, or a doctor, or lawyer.

“I just hope that you’re not scared off or put down or too shy or too nervous or too intimidated to go after what you want and to go do what makes you happy.”