Convocation 2013: five U of T health leaders to watch

As the class of 2013 graduates this June, U of T News looks at some of the students who will be changing health care and advancing innovative medical technology in Canada and around the world.

With big dreams ahead and major accomplishments behind them, Connor Emdin,Margaret CocksAyodele OdutayoJoshua Liu and Ben Ouyang exemplify the drive, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit of U of T’s health and medical graduates.

Connor Emdin, Trinity College

Connor Emdin is a U of T student, Rhodes Scholar and global health researcher – and marathon runner in his spare time.

While studying biochemistry and global health during his undergraduate years, Emdin conducted research on increasing access to HIV treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing technologies to improve clinical care for infants in low income health centres. He worked on a clinical trial in South Africa, and performed an analysis of the results of 50,000 patients who underwent HIV treatment to demonstrate that nurses could provide the same quality of HIV care as physicians.

Emdin co-founded Salt for Survival, a student-run fundraising organization for salt iodization programs and volunteered in Mount Sinai Hospital’s endocrinology department.

“The University of Toronto provides opportunities unlike any university in Canada,” says Emdin (pictured left), who won multiple awards while at U of T. “I’ve been able to work and conduct research with talented faculty since my second year of university.”

During his Rhodes scholarship in Oxford, Emdin plans to study the relationship between public policy (especially macroeconomic policy) and health outcomes in developing countries, before either attending medical school or completing a PhD in international development. (Read more about Emdin.)

Margaret Cocks, Faculty of Medicine

A historian turned physician, Margaret Cocks says keeping busy was her key to keeping grounded in medical school.

Cocks worked as a research coordinator at the Ontario Medical Association, examining health inequities prominent in urban centres. She was editor-in-chief of the student-run University of Toronto Medical Journaland co-production manager of the 2013 edition of Toronto Notes  — a global study guide to help students prepare for medical licensing exams.

Before attending U of T, Cocks was a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Cambridge, where she completed her PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. It’s a topic she continued to explore in Toronto. She co-led Taking Toronto’s Healthcare History (the first such medical history conference in Canada) and co-founded the Interest Group for the History and Philosophy of Medicine.

“Medical knowledge is essential for a physician but outside interests can help with skills, such as communication and leadership,” says Cocks. “It gives you a better perspective on your work as a physician to have that broader understanding.”

Heading to California for a preliminary internship in internal medicine, Cocks hopes to find a future career that integrates her passion for history and her love of medicine.

Ayodele Odutayo, Faculty of Medicine

Before moving to Brampton, Ontario, the first 12 years of Ayodele Odutayo’s life were divided between Nigeria and the British Virgin Islands. This sparked his interest in improving health care both in Canada and internationally.

The committed volunteer and student leader previously served as co-director of U of T’s International Health Program and currently represents Canadian medical students on the Canadian Medical Association Committee on Healthcare and Promotion. He is also a former intern with the World Health Organization, and hopes to improve the management of kidney disease locally and abroad.

“The world is becoming much more interconnected and learning about challenges in other areas broadens our perspective and informs our decision-making,” says Odutayo (pictured right). “There is also a basic social responsibility to work to the betterment of our society, and involvement in global health initiatives is one avenue to fulfilling that duty.”

A recipient of the 2013 Ontario Rhodes Scholarship, Odutayo plans to pursue a Master’s degree in health policy and epidemiology while at Oxford, with a focus on studying kidney disease and its precursors. (Read more about Odutayo.)

Joshua Liu, Faculty of Medicine

Joshua Liu is graduating from the University of Toronto School of Medicine this June but he’s already achieved a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments.

Named one of The Next 36, a program to develop Canada’s rising entrepreneurs, Liu is co-founder of Seamless Mobile Health, a company which built a mobile platform to monitor patients after surgery and catch complications earlier, thereby reducing readmissions. Liu’s company has already achieved great success; it recently won first place at the national eHealth 2013 Apps Challenge and secured commitments from leading North American hospitals to use its technology. (Listen to Liu on CBC’s Metro Morning.)

Liu’s interest in hospital readmissions stemmed from his experience co-leading a project at University Health Network’s Centre for Innovation in Complex Care to map out the current state of avoidable hospitalizations for complex patients in Ontario.

“I’m interested in combining health care and technology to solve complex system problems,” says Liu.

Liu, who is passionate about the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), previously founded the SMARTS youth science network and served on Shad Valley’s board of directors.

In part for this work, Liu was named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, an award that celebrates innovation, leadership and achievement among Canadians under the age of 20.

Ben Ouyang, Division of Engineering Science

When Engineering Science student Ben Ouyang looks at a problem, he sees a solution.

Take, for instance, drug delivery systems. Ouyang thought there might be a way to make them more efficient, so he created a new, elastic biomaterial with “highly tuneable” mechanical and chemical properties. His work won him this year’s prestigious national Sunnybrook Prize competition. (Read more about Ouyang.)

Ouyang began his research while studying in the biomedical program jointly run by Harvard and MIT during his Professional Experience Year. Ouyang was one of the researchers named on the patent application filed on the biomaterial research and was an author on the article recently published in the high-impact scientific journal Advanced Materials.

“Throughout my undergrad program, I learned how to think and how to approach problems to find the optimal solution,” Ouyang says. “I eventually discovered that my passions lay in curiosities and understanding the unknowns of the human body.”

Ouyang also took top prize at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) Undergraduate Summer Research Program symposium, and was a member of the team that won this year’s prosthetic Lego competition with a simple but effective prosthetic forearm prototype that triumphed in the elimination-style competition. (Read more about his team’s win.)

In August, Ouyang will be entering medical school at the University of Toronto in the MD/PhD program, where he plans to become a surgeon scientist.

“I chose U of T for medicine because of the world-class researchers and the diverse clinical experiences afforded by the variety of hospitals and GTA population,” he says. “Currently, surgery – cardiac or transplantation, for example – is most exciting to me.”