Alumni Stories: Our Community’s Hidden Heroes

In times of utter chaos and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare heroes have often been the stabilizing force, the glue holding our society together. Every day, healthcare professionals such as Rundle College’s own alumna, Dr. Brittany Sunderani (Beingessner) ‘06, put their lives on the line to protect Albertans and in turn put the pandemic in the rearview mirror.

Dr. Brittany Sunderani ’06 College | Story By: Haley Webb ‘22 College

Published previously in the 2021 issue of The Ascent, Rundle alumni magazine.

Dr. Brittany Sunderani is an emergency medicine physician here in Calgary, splitting her time between general emergency medicine at Foothills Hospital and pediatric emergency medicine at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Along with being a physician, Dr. Sunderani also pursues another interest through working with the Alberta Children’s Hospital pediatric transport team. This lifesaving team flies sick children from southern Alberta and British Columbia to the Alberta Children’s Hospital to seek greater medical attention. 

From the age of about 14, Dr. Sunderani knew she wanted to be a physician. When asked about her motivations for becoming a physician, she described how her interest in medicine spurred from a “combination of exposure to the healthcare system as a child and through family members and just the love of science balanced with the love of people and helping them. I thought medicine was a nice mix of both.”

Now as a physician, Dr. Sunderani describes how her favourite part of her career is the people she works with. Although she loves the science and the application of science in the medical field, Dr. Sunderani explained how in particular “I love the people that I work with, but I also love meeting people and connecting with them. It’s this immediate trust and relationship that you build with them at that moment and you can make an impact.” It is these personal connections that make her career as a physician especially rewarding.

Although being a physician is extremely rewarding and impactful towards the community, Dr. Sunderani adds that this career path also comes with its fair list of challenges. She adds that in her perspective the biggest challenge during her trajectory into medicine were the sacrifices she had to make along the way. “Instead of often doing a fun summer job or travelling, you are focused on having the right job and volunteering which is great and helped build my character, but it can also be exhausting at times.” Furthermore, Dr. Sunderani had to live separate from her husband and family for five years during her residency training while also experiencing the demanding and rapid pace of residency training itself. However, when reflecting, she says that there is nothing she would rather do and that all the challenges were worth it in the end.

Despite Dr. Sunderani’s reflection about how these challenges were at the end worth it, she highlights that it was not always like that for her. When asked about what she would say to her grade 12 Rundle self, she said, “I would tell myself it’s worth it in the end and enjoy the moment that you’re in and don’t wish this step away. I wished I slowed down and enjoyed the state I was in at the time rather than focusing on the stress that was happening, wishing it away, because you realize life never gets easier, but rather challenging in different ways.

She further goes on to highlight the importance of taking advantage of the moment that you’re in and making the best of it. Although certain stages may seem daunting at the moment, Dr. Sunderani highlights that when looking back, it wasn’t that one stage was bad, but rather it was pretty good, she just did not realize it. When reflecting on 2020, it is clear that COVID-19 has affected everyone’s outlook in a different way. From a more personal lens, Dr. Sunderani says the biggest thing she has learned through the pandemic is to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. “Traditionally, I loved to travel but because of that, I never really appreciated how amazing our city is and lucky we are. COVID-19 has forced me to slow down, enjoy the city that we live in, and enjoy time with family because we are not seeing anybody else.” Dr. Brittany Sunderani adds that she has realized how lucky she is and how important it is for one to appreciate how much they have, enjoy everything one has around them rather than looking for the next best thing.

In particular, physicians have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and have had to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. Although Dr. Sunderani was on maternity leave for a significant amount of time at the beginning of the pandemic, she explained how she felt a sense of guilt regarding her absence as she was unable to do what she was trained for — to help and to provide support in times of crisis. Also, she highlights the challenges physicians have faced with the multiple waves and variants of COVID-19. “One of the biggest things after coming back to work has been this up and down in anxiety where things seem to be getting better, we feel hopeful, and then you get hit again now with this third wave and highly contagious variants. It makes you feel scared again.”

She further explains how this rollercoaster journey has taken a great toll on physicians’ mental health. However, what came along with this is raised awareness about physician mental health, an important topic often overlooked. Dr. Sunderani highlights that she hopes that society is “better after this pandemic in terms of our recognition of stress and how to support one another because what we do as physicians is hard at the best of times and even harder when you’re worried about if you are even safe in your own work environment.” 

When asked to describe her Rundle experience Dr. Sunderani said, “supportive, adventure, and challenging.” She explains that one way that Rundle set her up for success was the constant support she felt from teachers both personally and academically. Not only that, she highlighted how Rundle offered a plethora of opportunities for adventure such as her trip to Costa Rica, one of her favourite Rundle memories. Finally, Dr. Sunderani said that her Rundle teachers did a great job of challenging her to be the best version of herself and to never accept that she could not do something.

In an ever-evolving field such as medicine, it is often difficult to predict exactly what the future holds. However, moving forward, Dr. Sunderani dreams of working with Doctors Without Borders due to her love of travelling, helping others, and immersing herself in different cultures. As for broader predictions for the medical field, from her perspective as an emergency medicine physician, she explains that the biggest upcoming aspect for medicine in Calgary is the movement to the 21st century, where hospitals can use electronic medical records and in turn change the way they document what physicians practice. “I think it is huge in improving the quality of care for people across the province and eventually across the country.” Dr. Sunderani adds that these new technologies slowly coming to medicine will truly revolutionize the ways physicians can help people and in turn should be something to look out for in the next five years.

From a broad perspective, it is clear that medicine is an extremely diverse and complex field that is often hard for those pursuing a career in this field to navigate. As a result, Dr. Sunderani’s biggest piece of advice to anyone interested in medicine is to speak with someone who is in it, living it, and has first-hand experience in the field. “You want to make sure you have a sense of what the training path looks like, and make sure you have an understanding of what this career looks like because it’s a long haul and a big investment.” Not only that, she adds that it is important to see beyond the academic aspect of medicine and also dedicate time to jobs and volunteering as there is so much to an individual applying to medical school besides their transcript.

It is clear that physicians have been placed under unimaginable circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic — having to adapt and learn in a “warzone” many of us cannot even fathom. Although there are the challenges, the benefits of this career field completely outweigh the cons even when going to work may be risking their own safety. It is no mistake that physicians are the hidden heroes whose passion drives them to go to work every day to protect our community, and as citizens, we must learn from their heroism and apply that same intense passion to our own endeavours.