Newcomer doctor duo on deployment

Written and photos by: Jennifer Barnable, senior digital writer
Sepideh Alvandi and Vahid Zolfagharimoheb are married physicians from Iran who arrived in July 2021 to make Canada their new home.
The couple wasted no time applying their professional skills and humanitarian drive to help others in need in their new country. Soon after settling in, they reached out to the Red Cross with the desire to be useful and contribute their skills and experience.
A man and a woman embracing in front of a Canada sign 

The family that practices together

A general physician and medical researcher in Tehran, Sepideh explains that she worked as a medical doctor in various cities in her home country.
“My husband and I came to Canada for the opportunity to experience a new life. We wanted to push ourselves to overcome obstacles that we may meet in our new pathway, while helping others whatever way we can.”

“Vahid and I graduated from Tehran University of Medical Science at the same time and started our practice together,” Sepideh explains. “He travelled to Canada before me, to assess the potential for our new life here before we made the definite decision to immigrate.”
She adds, “When we came to Canada, I was so perplexed because I left all my experience and job opportunities behind, but there was no chance for me to work as a medical doctor in Canada before passing medical exams and getting a residency position here first.”
Determined to put her skills to use and make a difference to others, and becoming fully immersed in her new community, she strategically began a job hunt while studying for her medical exams.
“I started to look for a job that fits my personality and keeps my emotions alive. After much research, I found the Canadian Red Cross, and a new job where I could continue to heal other people’s pain.”
Sepideh continues, “To me, the Red Cross is a place that I could be myself and use all my experience in dealing with people to help them – because helping people was the most important factor in my decision to choose medicine as a career.”

Deployed together, apart

Barely five months into their arrival, the young husband and wife team found themselves deployed with the Red Cross at either end of the country, putting their prior experience to work.
A woman in a mask and Canadian Red Cross vestSepideh joined a mobile emergency response team in British Columbia and Vahid, a mobile COVID-19 vaccination team in Ontario.
Despite being separated by nearly 4,000 kilometres and still so new to Canada, both have demonstrated a humble and determined drive to be of service to others.
Sepideh and Vahid each feel satisfaction knowing they are still working together, even if apart. Through their university studies, medical practice and now, Red Cross deployments, this is clearly a family unit dedicated to making an impact wherever they are.
At the Red Cross reception centre in Abbotsford, BC, Sepideh’s sincerity radiates as she speaks about her enthusiasm for her first deployment.  
While shadowing her colleagues as she learns, Sepideh listens keenly to the people who have come to the site that day. Even behind a plexiglass desk shield, and wearing a face shield and medical mask, her warmth and attentiveness is evident. 
“I’m so proud to be chosen to be part of the Red Cross,” she shares. “As an emergency responder, I work as part of a mobile team. Wherever people need us, we go there to help them. Right now, we are meeting with people who have been affected by the BC floods disaster. We gather the necessary information to assist them with accessing accommodation, food, clothing and other basic needs.”
A  man in a mask, red shirt, and Red Cross lanyard with IDAcross the country, at the same time, her husband was deployed with the mobile vaccination team in Ontario, in support of the Ontario Ministry of Health. Vahid is an international medical graduate and medical researcher from Tehran who was immediately interested in pursuing opportunities with the Red Cross upon their arrival in Canada this past summer.
While they’re waiting to write the medical exams to become physicians in their new country, Vahid explained his focus was on how they could still help right now.
“It’s very rewarding work with the mobile vaccination team. Recently, I was deployed to the Canadian border to help set up a pop-up clinic in different locations in Ontario. I set up the equipment necessary for checking in and checking out, screening clients to receive COVID-19 vaccines and documenting their information. I also help clean up after the pop-up clinic is done giving vaccines.”
After their busy shifts, Vahid and Sepideh check in with one another by video call to chat about their day and what they’ve learned. Despite being far apart, they both insist this is an important experience for growth and helping wherever possible.

Humanitarians at heart

When asked what makes their new jobs with the Red Cross meaningful, the doctor duo had plenty to share.
Sepideh remarks that the work is rewarding in that it is both challenging and interesting for her – and, of course, it has an impact on her personally.
“As a human being, when I am faced with situations where people are suffering from the consequences of a disaster, who see their lives have been destroyed, I feel such sympathy for them,” she says. “I think this is the most challenging part of my job because I am a very sensitive person, but at the same time it motivates me to help and encourages me to do my best in the process of their recovery.”
A man and a woman taking a selfieVahid adds, “I love helping people and being useful to society. For me, everything I want to do is represented by the Red Cross, where I can care for other people. I enjoy the way we work as a team to do our jobs and I have also learned so much about how to interact with people with different backgrounds, beliefs and ethnicities.”
“Assisting people in difficult moments of their life satisfies my soul,” Sepideh adds. “I enjoy being a tiny part of a huge system in a humanitarian organization. I really love my job. In such a short period of time on deployment, I have already learned that no matter who you are, what language you speak, what colour your skin is, you are valuable. Humanitarianism goes beyond these simple physical characteristics. Everyone should be respected, and everyone deserves kindness and care.”
She recalls, “Working with the Red Cross reminds me of a poem by my favourite Iranian poet, Sa’adi who said ‘Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.’”
Newcomers form an immensely valuable part of the fabric of Canadian society. With them, they bring their languages, cultures, traditions, lived experience, professional expertise, and dreams for the future.
The Red Cross values the many skills and abilities newcomers bring. People like Sepideh and Vahid are fine examples of new Canadians who share a deep commitment to their communities and contribute their skills and efforts to help those in need.
The Canadian Red Cross is actively recruiting international medical graduates for various roles to support the COVID-19 response. Many more meaningful work and volunteer opportunities also exist.  We welcome your interest, experience and enthusiasm.

Related stories:

See your impact in action.

Sign up to receive impact updates from the Canadian Red Cross, inspirational stories from the field and be the first to hear about emergency relief efforts.

The Canadian Red Cross takes your privacy seriously. We do not distribute or sell your email address to anyone. View our privacy policy.

Blog Archives