Donna May Kimmaliardjuk: Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon

November 28, 2017
Dre Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, résidente en chirurgie cardiaque à l’Institut de cardiologie de l’Université d’Ottawa

At first glance, Donna May Kimmaliardjuk may seem like an average twenty-something-year-old. She is peppy, full of zest and, despite having worked a string of 12-hour long shifts with unpredictable on-call demands, her spirit is as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. At 28, Kimmaliardjuk, or “Dr. K” as she’s known between the walls of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI), is set to become Canada’s first Inuk heart surgeon.

Kimmaliardjuk grew up in Ottawa but still has ties to her hometown of Chesterfield Inlet, a small Inuit community on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Nunavut. The northern hamlet is thought to be one of – if not the oldest community in Nunavut – with a population in the hundreds.  

“I’m probably related to everyone in Chesterfield Inlet because it’s that small of a community,” jokes Kimmaliardjuk. “They’ve all been very supportive and excited I am pursuing my goals and am now a doctor.”

Kimmaliardjuk says she developed an interest in medicine at an early age. It was her father’s story about her grandfather’s passing which first inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.

I remember thinking I don’t want to lose my parents and I don’t want other kids to lose their parents to sickness or other diseases. That idea stuck with me through elementary school, and high school, and then university.

- Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk

Kimmaliardjuk says she became fascinated with the human heart in medical school.    

Dr. K is currently in her fourth year of residency at the UOHI. She attributes her early success to the teachings and guidance of her colleagues and peers. “I feel very fortunate to be a resident here at the UOHI,” she says. “I am surrounded by amazing staff and residents who are able to guide me through my journey to becoming a fully-trained cardiac surgeon.”

“At the end of the day, we are all here for our patients,” she adds. “To have such great role models at the UOHI to help guide me and show me great ways of dealing with patients will really serve me and my patients in the future.” 

Recently, in November, she was named one of 13 recipients (1 of 3 in the youth category) to receive a 2018 Indspire Award. The awards, which are bestowed annually to outstanding First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

“I feel very grateful there is an organization highlighting the achievements of Aboriginals and recognizes the work I am doing and wants to celebrate that. “

Through her work at the UOHI, Dr. K’s message for women and Indigenous youth is powerful and inspiring. “Please continue with your education,” she pleads. “Education is so powerful. It truly is the key to opening so many doors. I am where I am today because of my education.“

“As crazy as your dream or goal may be, don’t let that intimidate you or stop you from going after it.”

Kimmaliardjuk is a supporter of I Love First Peoples, a volunteer-based charitable organization which empowers Indigenous children and youth to succeed through education and the motivation to stay in school.   

More information:

Watch a short interview featuring Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, resident cardiac surgeon at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Related links

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk in an operating room