Student Spotlight: Saif Shamshoon

The Student Spotlight is a glimpse into the lives of McMaster medical students through portraits and storytelling. The goal is to highlight the wonderful diversity of our student body.

Meet Saif Shamshoon (c2019), a 23 year old Iraqi-Canadian from Mississauga (originally from Baghdad!).

Photo: Darwin Chan (c2018); Editor: Marina Wang (c2018)

Some of Saif’s favourite things…
Hobby: Basketball
Movie: Bad Boys Series
Song/album/artist: “Huge Eminem fan, have memorized a ton of his songs” (We need to hear you rap Saif.)
Character/superhero: Don’t really have a favourite superhero; character would be Frank Underwood from House of Cards or Ross from Friends
Shocking Secret: I can juggle.


Saif completed his undergrad at McMaster in the Kinesiology program. With this training in human anatomy and physiology, including focus on sports related injuries and the physiology of exercise, Saif started to understand the functioning of the human body as well as complications that “may cause it to malfunction”. This eventually “compounded” his interest in Medicine from a scientific and knowledge based perspective.

One of the major bonuses of his program was that there were a broad range of courses that would focus on the biological aspects as opposed to sports performance. Saif found himself exploring neurologic control of movement, neuromuscular disorders, and “the intricacies related to neural networking”. We think Saif will really enjoy MF5.

The Spark to Medicine

“I didn’t really have one life changing ‘aha’ moment that made me want to go into medicine. It was more of a progression from an idea that ‘this would be cool to do’ to a real drive and passion.”

Saif points out a few experiences that were key for this progression. One of them was his time volunteering at MacWheelers, an exercise program for those with Multiple Sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. “I got to meet the most interesting people, got to know their stories and build some pretty awesome relationships”. Knowing that he was able to make some of their days a little brighter drew Saif more towards medicine.

Like many of us, Saif also had a few personal and familial encounters with the healthcare system. These up close and personal experiences added to the fuel already pushing him into medicine as a lifelong career.

“At the age of 5, I had surgery to repair a congenital abnormality. Of course, being so young you can imagine that I was quite terrified simply at the idea of having to be away from my parents, let alone the fact that I was going to be put to sleep and cut open. But the doctors were amazingly comforting; they did everything they could to cheer me up, and put my mind at ease. They even got me to wear a little Bananas in Pyjamas gown after finding out it was one of my favourite cartoons…[years later] I later had to have another surgery… right before Christmas, and I remember while I was recovering, Santa came to visit me and gave me a little gift… I was probably too old to fully experience the joy of meeting Santa in real life, but it was, again, these little things played a large role in changing my experience.” Together, these experiences would later contribute to Saif’s developing idea that being a doctor and impacting lives through such acts of kindness would be an extremely rewarding career.

“Oh, and I can’t forget MacKin (McMaster Kinesiology); being part of the best (I’m obviously biased) Kinesiology program really helped bring out my focused interests in specific avenues of medicine.”

Moments of Inspiration

“I’d have to go with the cliché here and attribute my success to my parents. They gave up their own success and a sustainable life (at the time we left) in Iraq for my siblings and me. They’ve been through obstacles I can’t even imagine; serving in the military during war, relocating multiple times, arriving in Canada and starting from scratch, dealing with unstable jobs, being laid off and having to scramble to make ends meet, as well as coping with health issues; all to give me and my siblings ample opportunities to thrive. Despite all this, they’ve remained extremely supportive and positive, showing me what it means to be perseverant in the truest sense of the word. The success I’ve had up to this point in my life is as much their success as it is mine.”

Highlights of Medical School so Far

“I love the fact that there are people from all walks of life in our program, but that all of our personalities allow us to interact so freely and genuinely. I can meet an engineer one day, an art major the next, and a kinesiology student after that, and have very similar experiences all while discussing very different topics!”

Future Goals

Showing maturity and insight, Saif knows that he can’t change everyone’s lives and magically make the world a better place. But that won’t stop him from trying to positively impact as many lives as possible. “Whatever specialty I decide to pursue, I want to wholeheartedly commit to impacting every patient that I encounter”. He also has an interest in preventative healthcare in a public health setting and is going to be one of the people pushing for better integration of new technologies in our healthcare system.

Alternate Dimension

“Something related to developing cutting edge technology, or playing for the Toronto Raptors”.

Saif also wrote a poem on his journey to medical school that many may resonate with:

I’m on the verge of bringing my dream to fruition,
Started off as a mere thought, bloomed into an inspired ambition.

From a high school kid with an idea and a world of potential
To a university student who spent night and day trying to meet the credentials.

Didn’t understand at first the magnitude of the struggle
This journey soon became the source of many of my troubles.

For the road was long, it was difficult and it was never direct,
From midterms to assignments to standardized tests,

And even interview prep.

Rejection at first, my dream seemingly torn to shreds
Disheartenment followed, along with utter contempt.

Years of dedication to this path, to this mission.
All to be told “Unfortunately, we’re unable to offer you admission.”

Was I not smart enough, had I done something wrong?
All the prerequisites met, only to get told I don’t belong?

I could have caved, I could have packed it in
Why would I continue? They’re not going to let me in.

But perseverance was my calling card, and in it, solace I had found.
No quitting now kid, to this vocation I was bound.

Having come this far forward I’ve now taken time to look back,
At times when back seemed like the only direction on the track.

The times where hope was lost, I was defeated, I had failed.
Days where the track had been broken, and where the train had been derailed.

And somehow I mustered up the strength to put it back.
Times where it wouldn’t fit? I built my own track.

And now my journey brings me here, to where I am faced with my dream.
Three years away? Not as far as it once seemed.

And as I reminisce about the days where my direction wasn’t clear,
I can finally look down at my feet and think I’ve made it, I’m here.

To be our next student spotlight, please click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s