Photo of Karishma Patel

2020 U of T Student Leadership Award Recipient: Karishma Patel

The University of Toronto Student Leadership Award recognizes graduating students for their exemplary contributions and significant impact at U of T and on the university experience of their peers. This year, two MScOT students (Class of 2020) received this prestigious award: Timothy Spadzinski and Karishma Patel. Tim and Karishma shared their perspectives on leadership as occupational therapy students.

What motivates you to take on leadership roles?

My parents, who immigrated to Canada, are the key inspirations for my engagement in leadership roles. They made great sacrifices to provide better opportunities for their children. Having the opportunity to be a part of their struggles allows me to remain grounded and truly learn the importance of hearing one’s stories about their lived experiences. My previous experiences have shaped my lens, values, and beliefs, and being in a leadership role allows me to further enhance my skills and abilities to empower others. The experiences that I have acquired from leadership roles have shaped me and allowed me to practice in a client-centered manner as well as promote the inclusion of all members in our diverse community, thereby, ensuring their stories do not go unheard.

Tell me about the leadership role(s) you are most proud of, and why.

I believe one aspect of being a leader is recognizing where the gaps are and then advocating to address these gaps. Shahrose Aratia, Priya Thakkar, and I recognized that our MScOT program had a lack of involvement for OT students to engage in areas of assistive technology. This year, to address this gap, we co-founded OTech U of T, which is a student-led group that aims to bring together OT students who are interested in the intersectionality between healthcare, OT, and technology. Part of our vision is to advocate for more awareness of how OTs can play an imperative role in the assistive technology field through hosting workshops, speaker sessions, and tours of rehabilitation technology facilities. At the same time, we are building partnerships with other professions to promote an interprofessional approach within our community. It is through these leadership approaches we have the opportunity to spread awareness of the OT role, and I could not be prouder of this ongoing achievement as we have now expanded OTech U of T to a national level – OTech Canada where we bring together OT students across Canada!

What advice or support can you give to students who would like to be active leaders but are unsure how to get started?

My advice to you would be to take advantage of the many different committees and clubs you can get involved in! If you think you might be interested in a particular role, you can give it a try. If there is an area you want to become more involved in, but you recognize that this particular area does not exist, then address the gap! It is easy to get swept up in our coursework, but one way we can expand our critical reasoning is through our involvement in extra-curriculars. One piece of advice that I received in my first year that really promoted some self-reflection was: You made it into this competitive program and now it is time to enjoy the journey. For me, enjoying the journey involved being surrounded by such great leadership within my peers and faculty members! It is through one another that we learn the most about the qualities that makes one a leader! I believe when you are passionate about what you do, your leadership capabilities will develop.

Do you have any role models who supported and encouraged your leadership capabilities, and if so, what did they do to support you?

Being surrounded by professors and supportive peers really encourage my leadership capabilities. Having an environment filled by such great leaders who not only support you but challenge you to flourish really provides you with a perspective that you can apply to your future role as a clinician. One of my professors who really supported my engagement in my leadership pursuits is Jill Stier. Jill is the epitome of what is means to be a leader. She is compassionate, respectful, and diligent to all of her students. Above all, she has been able to challenge me in my leadership pursuits and really support the initiatives we take on as students.

How did it feel to be nominated for this award, and to be a recipient?

It is a humbling experience to be nominated for this award and be a recipient. I would not be in this position without the support of my peers and faculty members. Above all, I am truly humbled by having the opportunity to work alongside my peers and faculty members who are inspiring leaders. Receiving this award provides me with more confidence in myself and motivates me to continue to engage in leadership pursuits.

Sandra Sokoloff
August 5, 2020