Observations with Ola Lemanowicz on Medicine and Her Medical Journey

After hearing about Ola’s work for the past few years through mutual friends, I remember the tail end of high school being in awe of the movement she created with her non profit Operation Med School. The way we met was somewhat serendipitous because for a while we were connected online through our Top 20 Under 20 Community but it took a post and a few messages later for us to realize that we were both at UBC! 

Ever since connecting in person, Ola has been a supportive friend, inspiring individual, and healthcare hero! Despite meeting her formally just this year, her story of her journey to becoming a doctor has resonated with me because her positivity and passion for medicine and health are contagious. Following her journey from afar for the past few years has been heartwarming but ever more so after a few conversations we’ve had. 

I wanted to dive into uncovering Ola’s story and I’m grateful for this opportunity to have done so first in March of this year and again, now, with this conversation. 

C: I’m so happy that we were able to meet. Especially right before things drastically changed. It was the calm before the storm. I want to get right into asking you because it’s super clear to me and those who have encountered you that you’re passionate about medicine and you have been for a while. What drives your passion for medicine? 

O: My curiosity is what really drives me and as any other medical student, the desire to help others. My mom recently found a journal of hers that she had written about my brother and I growing up. From the age of two, I would notice little things and try to help people out. When my grandfather was washing his hands, his sleeves would often get wet so I remember helping him roll his sleeves. 

But I really think that my passion comes from my curiosity and my excitement for learning. There’s so much we can learn and a lot of potential for growth within medicine, which is what makes it such an attractive field for me. It’s a field where I’m not limited by anything other than my willingness to learn. What has interested me in the past is technology in medicine. Technology can help us in so many ways such as diagnostics and helping patients manage their illnesses. 

Over the last year, I got quite sick but what really helped me was an app that notified me to take medicine. With school, work, and other things going on it can be very hard to remember to take different types of medicine at many times during the day. This is a personal example but in Canada, there’s a lot of technology that’s going to be implemented in the next 10 to 20 years that will create a lot of impact especially, from a patient quality life perspective. Patients will be able to manage their illness in a way that is not only sustainable but also improve their overall life in a way that allows them to be a productive citizen and a human being with the capacity to control aspects of what they’re going through. This has and continues to be a huge barrier for chronic illness. But in the next decades, technology will improve the quality of life for those with chronic illness as well as so many other Canadians. 

C:  I can hear your enthusiasm! I love what you’ve said about your curiosity and really, that untapped potential for life long learning and discovery within the field of medicine. I admire that a lot about you and appreciate you sharing about how technology in medicine has made a big impact within your own life and the lives of many others. I think the attitude of approaching whether it be medicine or another industry with the belief that there are no limits, is one that leads to continual growth for our own personal development and society as a whole. 

Given that you’ve been interested in medicine for a while, as seen by the long running success and expansion of the non profit Operation Med School you started back in highschool, and how you’ve almost completed your first year of med school at UBC…What has been a particular experience that has been monumental or impactful in your journey to becoming a doctor? Whether there have been any personal influences or even throughout your time as a first responder?

O: There is one particular experience from working as a first responder that I will always remember; the one call that always stands out in my mind. *For patient confidentiality purposes, I’ll only be giving a broad overview of what happened. There was a middle aged woman who was calling for her father who was experiencing chest pain. After we went through the protocols (aspirin for the chest pain and getting the ambulance dispatched), I stayed on the line to continue speaking with the family keeping the family calm. In those moments, as I was talking and listening, it’s as if you can visualize exactly what happened. The chaos and then the screaming. I tried to take charge of the situation by getting the original caller to pass on the phone to someone else who would be able to process what was going on. A nine year old had come onto the phone and told me the patient had collapsed. The child had explained that the patient was no longer awake or breathing. And so I remember Instructing this young child on the phone how to perform CPR. 

That was the only call with BC ambulance, where the paramedics had called me out afterwards and told me that my instructions to the child on how to perform CPR had been life changing. Once the paramedics arrived, they were able to take over, continue CPR, and bring the patient to the hospital. Later that same day, the patient was awake and speaking again. 

That was incredibly monumental and grounding for me because it showed me how something seemingly small (one out of many 911 calls) by one person can make such a big difference in the life of another’s family. Each call I take, everything I learn in medical school, my daily interactions with people, everything can be taken in. Everything I can then use to contribute in a way that positively impacts the lives of others. To be able to use all of it to make such a meaningful and big difference in someone else’s life is a constant reminder for me that I should not take my experiences for granted. 

C: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that experience with me. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for that family or for you to handle that situation. I’m really glad that your call was able to help alleviate the situation and save that man’s life. But it must have taken a lot of courage in that moment to do the right and necessary thing. And the way that you phrase it is so powerful: using everything that you can to contribute positively to the lives of others. I think it’s an important reminder within my own life or all our lives to never take an experience for granted because every experience teaches us something. Something we can use in the continuation of our own lives. 

O: It’s very impactful and it’s something that I do think about almost daily. The idea of being flexible and adapting to what happens in your life. 

C: I feel as if we could talk on and on just as the first time we met! So before I wrap things up, I want to ask about your future and your overall hopes for the future. I know that you’ve touched on earlier your interests about technology and the future of medicine. But I’m curious to hear more about your current thoughts on the future of medicine given that you’ve just gotten a quarter through your medical degree and are a doctor to be! What are some gaps that you see and what can we do about them?

O: I’m going to take an approach where I break it into two parts. First, I’ll focus on where I think things will go. And then second, focus on what we can do about it.

First, in Canada, there’s a lot of room for improvement in how to implement technological innovation especially compared to countries such as the US; due to the nature of the way our system is set up, we don’t have the same amount of competition within health care. There can be a lot of fear of technology within health care such as fears for privacy and safety; whether that be the access to patient medical records for example and preventing those that shouldn’t be accessing them. From a programming or security perspective, it can be hard to ensure that only physicians, with patient consent, have access to those confidential records. But I do think that this has been addressed adequately in other countries and though this is a very specific example, we should take advantage of the technologies available and leverage them within the medical field. 

It can be a very big financial investment to invest and uphold in systemic changes. But in the long term, it will be very impactful. For example, getting hospitals in the region on the same computer system so that they can share files can help patients tremendously. For an unconscious patient rolling into the hospital, from what I’ve seen generally, the hospital will have access to the patient’s records from previous visits to that specific hospital but not necessarily to other hospitals. It can be very difficult to manage the care of that patient if we only have limited information about them. From a perspective as simple as that, it can be very beneficial for said patient. 

Also from a quality improvement perspective, there’s a lot of research happening right now to ensure patients are getting adequate care, identifying barriers to patient care, and figuring out what physicians can do to improve patient care. So for example, the BC Patient and Safety Council has a few internships that focus on quality of improvement for patient care. But I think even being able to manage this at an even larger scale, requires implementing technology through larger databases of information. Hospitals can then share anonymized data so that these quality data improvement studies can have a larger impact for the quality of care for patients across BC and Canada.

I took a few programming courses during undergrad and I ended up competing in a few health coding competitions in the States. And what I found was that quite a few of the people who were participating came from a coding or programming background but not from a healthcare background. Moving forward we need to be very open to collaborations to those from different backgrounds as it’s beneficial not just for the healthcare industry but for those working in technology. By working together to create solutions, solutions are not only efficient from a technological perspective but also actually effective and realistic from a health care perspective. 

I think that a lot of us come into medicine with this curiosity and excitement for learning but it’s human nature to be a little hesitant towards change. We really have to challenge that. So that moving forward, we can keep that curiosity and keep that excitement for learning to make our healthcare system even better and to continue to do so throughout the length of our careers. Without the willingness to change and the flexibility of implementing new ideas, new technologies, or new systems, I think it’ll be very hard for society moving forward. 

C: For sure. Technology is here to stay and it’s not going away. As an arts student, I’ve been trained to be critical and so technology hasn’t escaped my critique radar. But I agree.  Across all industries, we’re going to need to find a way to leverage technology and use it to our benefit to improve our systems. We all have a lot more to do to understand the intricacies of technologies but it’s really about working together to address concerns and taking a more longer term perspective to approaching problems.

O: Definitely. Approaching with that curiosity is so important because it then turns us away from a management perspective of just telling someone to do or implement something. But approaching concerns with curiosity helps us understand what we are capable of and to use technologies in ways that are actually helpful. 

To connect with Ola, you can email her or find her on LinkedIn!

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