Volunteering in mental health while studying to become a doctor

Meet Wegdan Rashad Abdelmoemin. Wegdan moved to Toronto, Ontario, just over two years ago, and started volunteering not long after. An international medical graduate, with training in psychiatry and mental health, she is currently studying to get licensed as a doctor in Canada.
Wegdan pictured in winter head wrap outside, smiling at the camera“Since the day I landed in Canada, I felt such gratitude to be given a chance to flourish that I had vowed to myself to give back in whatever capacity I could,” explains Wegdan. “During the pandemic, I realized what a lonely time it must be for those living alone and so I began looking for opportunities to remotely support others who needed a friendly voice to chat with during this time. I found the Canadian Red Cross and immediately signed up. It was a smooth process and I felt I was at the right place at the right time.”
It was last October when Wegdan started volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross as a Phone Assurance volunteer in the Community Health and Wellness Department. After completing training and psychological first aid courses, she was assigned to her first client in Sault Ste. Marie.
“We have a chat every week and, quickly, we developed a warm rapport and, not only did my client express that these calls are the highlight of her week, but they also became one of my favourite things to do,” she says. “There is something very meaningful about connecting with a person at a time when we are all told to keep a distance.”
While Wegdan insists this role helped her to listen better, increase empathy and be a better ally, the innate need to help others has always been within her.
“I chose mental health and psychiatry as a culmination of experiences throughout my life,” explains Wegdan. “In medical school, we were given the chance to rotate in different specialties, and during my surgery rotations, I would observe that when patients were sad or lonely, they did not recover as quickly as patients who were in good spirits and had supportive people around them.”

She continues, “It made me curious and with more exposure, I realized that our mental health influences how likely we are to get sick – our immune system, heart health, skin, and pretty much every system in the body. As I began attending psychiatry clinics, I found meaning and fulfillment in authentically connecting with people and feeling that we can make a huge difference in their lives by listening and understanding their experiences.”

Wegdan says she is grateful for the opportunity the volunteer role within Canadian Red Cross as it did help her improve on skills that will help her in her career, as well as in life.
“I have really developed my listening skills and have had my horizons opened just by speaking with my client. Let me demonstrate how; I enjoy listening to stories and my client is an excellent storyteller and I learned that the more I listen and take time to reflect, the more I can get out of the story as well as provide better feedback. My client has been alive for over seven decades and has many adventures, historic events, personal triumphs, and tragedies to share with me, and so every conversation has been enriching listening to experiences I have never known about. One of my favourite stories was about her electrifying and chaotic experience at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.”
Wegdan is a believer in positivity, though she also knows that real world difficulties and challenges cannot always be framed positively and life has natural ups and downs. Through her work, she understands it’s important to listen and validate others’ emotions and experiences.
“While every call is different, I have also learned that not everyday is a day full of fun stories” she says. “There are times when the conversation runs out or the energy is low for that day and the best approach is to embrace those times too and allow the conversation to unfold naturally. I have come to learn to be more authentic and truer to myself through these interactions and I am grateful for the opportunity. Currently, I am working towards applying for Psychiatry residency training in Canada and I look forward to bringing the skills I have learned from Canadian Red Cross to my new position.”
Interested in volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross? Find out here what volunteer opportunities may be of interest to you.
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