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Dr. Donna May Kimmarliardjuk

©University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk’s achievement as the first Indigenous heart surgeon of Inuk origin in Canada is inspiring. She is a fourth-year resident at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and her story is a demonstration of the boundless possibilities available due through hard work and dedication to a dream.

Dr Kimmaliardjuk’s decision to become a surgeon was largely influenced by her grandfather’s death from the degenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and she hopes to help people with similar conditions in her community. Dr. Kimmaliardjuk was recently recognized with the Indspire award for being a role model to young Indigenous people. Dr. Kimmiliardjuk remarked on how humbled she felt by the honour of being Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon and actively encourages members of her indigenous community to dream big and work hard.

When interviewed, Dr. Kimmaliardjuk spoke to us about her journey to becoming a heart surgeon, among other things. Here are some of the questions we asked her:

How do you feel being the first Inuk heart surgeon?

“It’s an honour to be recognized for becoming the first Inuk heart surgeon in Canada. As I’ve been going through the stages to get to my goal, I’ve never thought of myself as “the first Inuk heart surgeon,” so it is a bit of an adjustment to be recognized, and have this title. However, I am very excited to share my story, and I hope by doing so, I can inspire others to pursue their dreams.”

What inspired you to work with the heart?

“Going into medical school, I thought I’d like to be a surgeon; I liked the idea of working with my hands, and being able to have an immediate impact on someone’s life. When we started learning about the heart, I just fell in love with it- I loved studying it, I loved the physiology, and it just stirred up the feeling of love – something indescribable, but a feeling that told me this was my calling.”

What is your work day like at the heart institute?

“A typical day at The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is 13-14 hours. I start by seeing my patients at 6:30 am; we start operating around 8:30 am. Most surgeries are between 4-6 hours. After the first operation I have some time to get lunch, and then review cases for the next day, follow-up on issues on my inpatients, and do some administrative work as I wait for the next patient to be asleep and ready for the surgery. Again, the surgery usually takes between 4-6 hours. Once we’re done operating I then go back to the wards to meet my patient(s) that I am operating on the next day- interview them, examine them, and get them ready for surgery.”

Did you ever want to give up in the course of your career journey, and if so, what pulled you through?

“I never wanted to give up in the course of my journey to becoming a doctor, or even now as a resident surgeon. There were times where I had self-doubt- worried would I get into medical school, and worried would I make a good doctor, and a good surgeon. I think that’s something a lot of people experience, but what kept me going was an attitude of resiliency and determination (that little voice inside your head that tells you to keep going) that was instilled in me by my parents. I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by loving parents, and amazing friends who have been there for me when I’ve needed support through tough times in my life.”What is your message to Indigenous youth who aspire to be like you?

“My message to Indigenous youth is to continue to work towards your dreams, understanding that it will take hard work and dedication. You are going to face challenges, and maybe sometimes unfair challenges, but don’t use those as excuses to quit- use them as stepping stones to get to your goal. And don’t forget to surround yourself with people that love and support you- they are integral to you succeeding.”

Dr Kimmaliardjuk is indeed an inspiring woman, set to make a remarkable difference in the world. 



Canada’s First Inuk Heart Surgeon. (December 5, 2017.} Retrieved April 15, 2018, from,

Laucius, J. University of Ottawa’s Dr.K’ is Canada’s First Inuk Cardiac Surgeon.” Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

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