July 24, 2020
Cardiac surgery resident and doctoral candidate receives prestigious Vanier scholarship
Ali Fatehi Hassanabad says work ethic, support system behind accolade
Dr. Ali Fatehi Hassanabad, MD, has numerous noteworthy achievements such as completing medical school, being accepted into the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) cardiac surgery program within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, and receiving multiple awards from national funding agencies.
Fatehi Hassanabad, a surgical resident and PhD student within the Cardiovascular and Respiratory Sciences and Clinical Investigator Program, both within the CSM, can now add another accolade to his growing list as the recipient of a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Fatehi Hassanabad was also ranked first nationally in the CIHR Banting and Best Canada Graduate Scholarship competition. It is a huge accomplishment given the elite group of doctoral students who received the scholarship.
While Fatehi Hassanabad’s success as a student is inspiring, his humble nature and genuine kindness is perhaps more so. He is quick to credit his mentors, and the entire surgical program within the Libin Institute, in his successful application for the Vanier.
“The cardiac surgery training program is a phenomenal program that offers everything a trainee can expect,” says Fatehi Hassanabad. “The staff mentor me, and I am very appreciative of that. Without that support system, I would not have received this scholarship.”
A huge commitment to education
He has several degrees including an undergraduate degree in math and physics from the University of Prince Edward Island, which was followed by a master's in cellular and molecular oncology and a medical degree, both from the University of Toronto. After being accepted into the cardiac surgery program, Fatehi Hassanabad decided he also wanted to pursue his PhD in cardiovascular medicine, work he has done alongside his surgical training.
The amount of effort Fatehi Hassanabad has put into his academic training so far is impressive, and he cites his parents’ work ethic as his inspiration.
His parents, both academics, instilled the belief in Fatehi Hassanabad and his two brothers that if they work hard, everything will fall into place. The message was certainly received. Not only is Fatehi Hassanabad on his way to becoming a cardiac surgeon, but his younger brother is currently training to become a neurosurgeon.
“No matter how far I go, I am never going to forget that it is the support around me and hard work that brings me success,” he says.
Love of research emerged at a young age
“My mom is an MD, PhD, whose research involved cardiac physiology in rodents,” explains Fatehi Hassanabad. “When I was 12, I would visit her lab after school, and I was totally inspired.”
As academics, Fatehi Hassanabad’s parents worked in a number of different places around the world, exposing their children to different cultures. Fatehi Hassanabad was born in Iran, but also lived in Scotland and France before immigrating to Prince Edward Island while still a high school student.
It was in PEI that Fatehi Hassanabad chose to pursue his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics. From there, having been awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) scholarship, he decided to tackle a new field and began his master's degree in oncology at the University of Toronto. His strong work ethic came into play during this transition.
“Going from math to basic science was a huge learning curve,” says Fatehi Hassanabad, explaining he had no real knowledge about how to work in a lab before he began his master's program. But he quickly met the challenge and went on to earn more scholarships for his high academic standing.
Following the completion of his master’s, Fatehi Hassanabad started medical school at the University of Toronto. As a medical student, he worked with cardiac surgeons within the thoracic surgery group at the Toronto General Hospital. Those experiences ignited his desire to pursue cardiac surgery.
He was accepted into the University of Calgary's cardiac surgery residency training program in 2016. Two years in, he decided to be a surgeon-scientist and began pursuing PhD graduate studies, working under the supervision and mentorship of Libin Institute Director Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, a highly successful surgeon-scientist who directs the Marlene and Don Campbell Family Cardiac Research Laboratory at the CSM.
Not surprisingly, Fatehi Hassanabad has had great success in his research. He contributed to a project that was published in the journal Immunity in 2019. The paper showcased the discovery, made by UCalgary researchers including Fatehi Hassanabad’s mentor Fedak, that there are healing cells in the pericardium, the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart, which can help a person recover after a heart attack. This fluid had previously been discarded during cardiac surgical procedures.
Although he still has several years to go before completing his PhD and surgical training, Fatehi Hassanabad is already planning the next step in his career. His goal is to pursue subspecialty fellowship training once he has completed his residency.
The Vanier Scholarship will help him reach his goals, and Fatehi Hassanabad is cognizant of the implication of receiving the scholarship.
“This award means a lot to me. I am incredibly humbled and honoured to be a Vanier Scholar,” he says. “There is an immense amount of value in that, and I’m very grateful for it.”