The e-ACCES interview series will engage ACCES Alumni, industry professionals, employer partners and the ACCES team to share their first-hand experience and knowledge to help jobseekers and newcomers with their advice. The interviews will provide insight about the state of the Canadian labour market, effective job search strategies, immigration in Canada, and more. We hope that sharing these stories and perspectives will provide kernels of knowledge and actionable examples that will help our community.

In this interview, we sat down with Hesham Abdelhady, ACCES Alumni and a Healthcare Connections graduate to discover how he was able to transition his career and international experience in Healthcare into a critical role in fighting COVID-19 in Canada. Hesham has the additional honour of being one of ACCES’s Walk of Fame winners for 2020! This year, ACCES honoured individuals and businesses who have made a contribution to our communities as we face the COVID-19 pandemic together, and Hesham is a deserving recipient of this award.

ACCES: Hi Hesham! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. We were excited to connect with you and hear about what you are doing currently in your career and how you managed to get there.

Hesham: Thank you so much for taking an interest in my career.

ACCES: To start off, can you tell us and our readers a little bit about your background before coming to Canada and what led you to ACCES?

Hesham: Certainly. I was trained as a Clinical Pharmacist in Egypt. There, I worked in critical care and pharmacy for over 10 years. I also worked as a Teaching assistant in the principles and practice of clinical research at Harvard. When I came to Canada I didn’t really know the career path I would take. My first thought was to pursue my pharmaceutical license. I worked on that for a while and, after some reflection, I realized my true passion was clinical research. That is when I decided to contact ACCES.

ACCES: That is impressive! Obviously you have a strong background both academically and in terms of your experience. After enrolling at ACCES, what would say were the parts of the ACCES program that you found most helpful?

Hesham: I think ACCES really helped me learn how to transfer my experience to the Canadian Labour market. The program helped me focus on my key strengths and the skills I possessed, which could be transferred. ACCES also helped me understand the eligibility requirements of various Canadian roles, particularly the roles in which I was interested. ACCES was also very helpful with job search strategies and how to prepare my CV for Canadian Employers.

ACCES: Can you talk about any challenges, obstacles or barriers you encountered in looking for employment in Canada?

Hesham: Well, most importantly, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research, but I wasn’t aware of what roles I could apply for. One of the challenges I experienced was not really knowing which roles I could pursue. After consulting with ACCES and getting some guidance, I learned that I was applying for lower level roles that I was over-qualified for. The jobs I really wanted, I thought I wasn’t eligible for, but the staff at ACCES showed me I had the skills and experience to go after higher level positions. I also didn’t build up my professional network, nor was I focused on developing an online presence. ACCES provided great help to me in this regard.

ACCES: That’s interesting. ACCES always emphasizes the need to build professional networks and an important part of our programming is the variety of networking and mentoring opportunities. So, for you, was there a particular personal connection either at ACCES or, perhaps, a mentor or professional connection that was important to you?

Hesham: The ACCES staff was always very motivating to me, especially Mikael Ahmad. I also enjoyed the different consultants that facilitated different workshops. Linnea Aasen-Johnston, Advisor in Clinical Research at with the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, was especially inspiring. I try to stay in touch and I appreciate her support of my career.

ACCES: Speaking of keeping in touch, have you stayed in touch with people at ACCES and has there been any benefit to that?

Hesham: Mikael helped me prepare for my first interview. He held a mock interview with me, which really helped me get that first job. I was only in that job for 6 or 7 months. I still stay in touch with him through LinkedIn and he continues to be supportive. If I have career questions, I know I can go to him.

ACCES: Our Walk of Fame Awards this year are honouring those who have made a significant contribution supporting our community as an essential service or as a front-line worker during the COVID-19 crisis. Can you talk about what it means to win the award?

Hesham: I am truly honoured and it feels like a great accomplishment to be recognized. To know that I am actually making a difference in fighting a global issue such as the COVID pandemic is rewarding.

ACCES: Can you talk about the clinical work you are doing in regard to COVID-19

Hesham: I’m proud to be part of the only clinical research for Toronto General med surge ICU for the past 3 months exclusively focussed on Covid-19 research. We are the largest ICU in Ontario and the only centre with ECMO Ventilation. My responsibility is to help manage all of the COVID studies at Toronto General, everything from research applications, administering of medications, collections of samples and communicating with our research sponsors and other centres who are focused on COVID-19.

ACCES: That is important work and you certainly deserve to be recognized in our Walk of Fame this year. So, one last question: What advice would you give to other newcomers to Canada?

Hesham: The best piece of advice I have is to focus on what you really want to do and try to target an area to pursue. Really go for it. Don’t spend too much time thinking about a bunch of other possibilities—follow your passion. Healthcare Connections has been an excellent resource and, in the end, I got my dream job. This is exactly where I wanted to be. This is a really great place to be right now.