New Westminster teen one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20

Ola Lemanowicz in the International Baccalaureate lab at New Westminster secondary where she just completed her Grade 12. She plans to be a doctor and was named one of Canada
Ola Lemanowicz in the International Baccalaureate lab at New Westminster secondary where she just completed her Grade 12. She plans to be a doctor and was named one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20 for setting up Operation Med School which introduces high school students to the field of medicine and help them make decisions about their careers.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

Ola Lemanowicz laughs as she remembers getting her vaccinations as she began kindergarten at Sir Richard McBride elementary.

The nurse told Ola's mom, Ewa, to hold her daughter down while she got the needle.

"That won't be necessary," Ewa told the nurse confidently.

"It will be," the nurse replied with equal confidence.

But when the needle was stuck in Ola's arm she just stared at it in wonderment. There was no wailing or crying.

"What … what's going on?" said the shocked nurse.

"It was pretty funny," recalls the now 18-year-old Lemanowicz of one of her first memories of the health care system. "Ever since then I've been fascinated by it."

Lemanowicz's fascination with medicine has led the Youth in Motion organization to name her one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20. She received the award in Toronto earlier this month.

The awards recognize young people across the country for their exceptional leadership, innovation and achievement..

By the time she reached New Westminster secondary, Lemanowicz knew she wanted a career in medicine. She even did an internship with the Rare Genomics Institute, helping to create a database of more than 300 diseases.

Lemanowicz was sure of her future path. Many of her friends weren't. Some considered medicine but were uncertain what it would take, and felt there wasn't much information available.

Sure there were television shows like Grey's Anatomy or House depicting medical students. But that was fiction, not reality.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about medicine," says Lemanowicz, a five-foot-two bundle of energy. "I'd been going to medical conferences since I was 15. I wanted to get involved. I find that generally I heard about how parents had pushed their children into careers and medicine is one of those things that they're pushed into."

ABOVE: Ola Lemanowicz (centre) and her fellow Top 20 Under 20 honorees in Toronto.

Two years ago, Lemanowicz began organizing a conference to help students decide if medicine was the career for them.

She called it Operation Med School.

She lined up medical professionals, medical students and aspiring doctors to give high school students the low down.

The first conference was last year at Simon Fraser University's Downtown Vancouver campus attracting almost 200 students. This year they've added one in Toronto.

"I was driven. I was persistent to make it happen," says Lemanowicz as she sits in the NWSS International Baccalaureate (IB) lab that was her second home throughout high school.

"[The conference] was just so impactful.

"Students will spend most of their lives with their careers. If they're not passionate about their careers then why pursue them? Students need more of a personal connection with their career path."

Lemanowicz recruited teams to help organize the conferences. The Vancouver team had two of her NWSS IB classmates leading the way—Lily Nikolova as president and Ellelan Degife as corporate relations director.

This year's conferences attracted 160 in Vancouver and 100 in Toronto. Expansion to Ottawa, Montreal and possibly Calgary is on the horizon. Conference proceeds went to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Her brother Lucas, 24, encouraged her to apply for the Youth in Motion award. She was surprised just to be considered for the Top 20.

"I really didn't think it would get any further," says Lemanowicz.

But then she was off to Toronto.

"It was phenomenal. One of the best parts was simply getting to know the other students," she says. "We were chatting and playing games late into the night. I made 19 new best friends. They're doing really amazing things in each of their [own areas], mostly non-profits or sciences."

As an IB student, Lemanowicz completed all her exams before the teachers' rotating and permanent strikes began.

She'll walk across the stage at Queen's Park Arena to receive her degree Thursday.

Then she'll spend the summer preparing to move to Kingston, Ont., to start undergraduate studies at Queen's University.

For her medical degree she hopes to attend UBC or a prestigious American med school like Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

When she witnesses a surgeon cutting someone open for the first time, it's a good bet she won't flinch.

Full list of Top 20 Under 20 winners

Sruti Arulmani, 16 (Mississauga, Ont.); Zameer Bharwani, 17 (Toronto, Ont.); Mélanie-Rose Frappier, 16 (Sudbury, Ont.); Kourosh Houshmand, 19 (Toronto, Ont.); Sabrina Hundal, 15 (Mississauga, Ont.); Selin Jessa, 19 (Coquitlam, B.C.); Usman Kamran, 19 (Calgary, Alta.); Sheliza Kassam (Calgary, Alta.); Alexander Lachapelle, 19 (Montreal, Que.); Alexandra Lemanowicz, 17 (New Westminster, B.C.); Laura Luo, 17 (North Vancouver, B.C.); Jessie MacAlpine, 18 (Woodstock, Ont.); Arjun Nair, 17 (Calgary, Alta.); Adam Noble, 19 (Lakefield, Ont.); Leanne Prendergast, 19 (Woodbridge, Ont.); Wali Shah, 19 (Mississauga, Ont.); James Sun, 18 (Toronto, Ont.); Raymond Wang, 15 (Vancouver, B.C.); Brennan Wong, 16 (Richmond Hill, Ont.); and Jeanny Yao, 19 (Vancouver, B.C.)

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