Aug 3, 2021

Humans of LMP: Dr Samira Mubareka

About, Equity and wellness, Humans of LMP, Our faculty
Samira Mubareka
By Ryan Hiebert

Dr. Samira Mubareka is a Clinician-Scientist and Medical Microbiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an Assistant Professor in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

Working as an Infectious Disease consultant at Sunnybrook, Dr. Mubareka co-founded The Sunnybrook Translational Research Group for Emerging and Respiratory Viruses (SERV) in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by finding effective treatments, vaccines, and transmission prevention strategies.

Beginnings in rural New Brunswick

Samira came from humble beginnings. Born in Gottingen, Germany, her family immigrated to a small town in northwestern New Brunswick when she was two. Samira grew up with two sisters in “A little tiny village,” as Samira describes, “that was so small, there wasn’t even a stoplight.” It was from this modest rural environment Samira’s curiosity in the natural world and biology flourished as a young child. Being surrounded by books and the richness of nature was something that set the stage for what Samira would do later in life.

Rural New Brunswick had a welcoming environment, where neighbors would help each other out and embraced a real “do-it-yourself” mentality. Samira’s childhood fostered exploration, but also demanded resilience and tenacity. There were often chores to do and problems to solve.

“Obviously my parents did a lot, but we were all expected to help out,” Samira explains, “you really had to have a lot of grit. You were very much at the mercy of the weather and the seasons, but at the same time, there was also this incredible freedom.”

Influential people and life experiences

Samira emphasizes the tremendous positive influence of her parents. One of the most influential people in Samira’s life, on a personal level, was her mother, “she was a very stoic person, but she also really valued a lot of things that passed on to us. There was a lot of literature in the house. A lot of the authors I went on to read, and influenced me, were all her books.”

On a professional level, the influences of the work “ecosystems” Samira was exposed to were of great benefit. From her Medical Microbiology training in Winnipeg to her research fellowship in New York, key groups of people facilitated extraordinary growth for Samira. Her research fellowship in New York was a constructive environment for research, learning, and productivity. “It was intense. The first year I was there, I was in the lab almost every day, but so was everyone else. The environment was so enriched, if you weren't there you felt like you were missing something.”

From the onset of COVID-19, Samira has been a leader on the frontlines and was part of the team of clinicians to treat the first COVID-19 diagnosed patient in Canada. Samira describes the pandemic as one of the most important learning experiences of her life, “It's illuminated a lot of perspective.” she says, “I think it's definitely tested the limits of patience, tolerance, ability, resilience, and grit”, all things she was equipped with from her childhood and early career.

A career path enriched by diverse experiences

When she was in high school, Samira’s initial desire was to become a neuroscientist due to her intellectual fascination with the brain. However, geopolitical circumstances were causing instability around the world, and Samira started reading and thinking a lot more about how she could help people. This inherent desire to help others, combined with her upbringing that fostered curiosity in the natural world, shifted Samira’s desire to pursue medicine. Originally, Samira wanted to become a family doctor, however, during her clinical rotations, her love for the field of infectious disease shone through, becoming her sub-specialisation.

Samira always embraced her intrinsic curiosities. She did not shy away from travel and went on to study medicine at Dalhousie University where she completed her MD in 1999. Afterward, she completed Internal Medicine training in 2002 at McGill University in Canada and then specialized in Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology at the University of Manitoba (2005). Samira went on to a research fellowship at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Palese, Department of Microbiology (2009).

Some of the best career advice Samira ever received was in medical school. “One of the family doctors said to me, ‘take the time you need to do what you love’.” explains Samira, “Don't be rushed to finish training. What difference does it make if you end up with a 25 or 30 year career? If it takes an extra five years to do the training that you love, you're better off doing 25 years of what you love than 30 years of what you hopefully don't hate, but may not always be driven to do.”

Things you didn’t know about Samira

Her childhood was full of nature and music, which has influenced her hobbies to this day. Samira has always enjoyed the great outdoors, fascinated by the flora and fauna of the natural world, and loves to spend time surrounded by nature: from hiking, to camping, canoeing, and kayaking.

Samira also has a love for music. After work, she often enjoys the opportunity to “sit down and drop a needle on some vinyl and just relax for 30 minutes while dinner's simmering away.”

Samira says the best presents she has ever received are pieces of art. Samira and her husband have been building an art collection since the beginning of their marriage, and often buy pieces of art together, or for each other.

She also learned to drive in an unconventional way. “I learned to drive manual shift on an old school Ford tractor with the big wheels - not one of these fancy, shiny Massey Ferguson or John Deere’s. It must have dated from the sixties, for sure.”

Find out more about Samira Mubareka

Her academic profile

U of T and McMaster researchers at Sunnybrook Hospital isolate virus behind COVID-19

Dr Samira Mubareka discusses COVID-19 in the Temerty Talk ‘Science on the Front Line: COVID-19 and Beyond’ (November 2020 on YouTube)

What is Humans of LMP?

A new and fun initiative that showcases our LMP community, led by the LMP Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (WIDE) Committee where community members interview each other to learn more about them. Through this, we hope to learn and celebrate the diverse and genuine experiences of our community.

Find out more about Humans of LMP and how to be featured.

This interview was conducted and written by MSc student and WIDE Committee member, Ryan Hiebert (pictured).