Office of Learner Affairs
We work with learners, at individual and systems levels to optimize the learning environment and experience, and enable their development into accomplished health care professionals.
Dr. Tony Pignatiello
Associate Dean, Learner Affairs
MD (Toronto), FRCP (C)
Dr. Pignatiello is the Associate Dean, Office of Learner Affairs (OLA) for the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM). He is a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, who has also been the Medical Director of the Provincial Pediatric Telepsychiatry Program for the last 20 years. Dr. Pignatiello has worked in many community, hospital, and academic based environments, and was previously the Associate Psychiatrist-in-Chief at SickKids. He enjoys working with trainees at all levels and has won awards for teaching and for his work on telepsychiatry.
Administrative Assistant to the Associate Dean
I graduated from Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 2007-2008 with a BRM degree, and have been working in the hospital/healthcare industry in various administrative capacities prior to coming to University of Toronto in 2018.
Manager, Operations and Learner Affairs
I am a Registered Social Worker with over 10 years of experience providing mental health supports to youth and adults. Prior to joining OLA, I worked as a manager and counsellor in community-based and educational settings in Toronto and in several cities in the United States. My clinical approach is eclectic (including CBT, DBT and mindfulness-based approaches), person-centered and trauma-informed. I am passionate about high quality student supports, and my goal is to ensure that OLA is an approachable, collaborative, safe and inclusive space for all learners.
I began my career in wellness in 2011, when I joined PGME’s Office of Resident Wellness, which later became the Postgraduate Wellness Office. My previous employment experience also includes working front-line in the PGME office, and with medical students at UBC. I am passionate about providing a comfortable and warm experience to our learners, as I help them navigate booking appointments and finding appropriate resources and policies.
I began working in post-secondary education in 2014 at Sheridan College and the University of Waterloo, before joining the University of Toronto in 2019. I have experience working with undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate learners in the Arts, Sciences, and Medicine as an Academic Advisor and Coordinator. Promoting overall wellness is extremely important to me because it plays an integral part in the ability of learners to successfully navigate through their personal, academic, and professional while lives, while setting goals, and achieving success.
Prior to joining OLA, my career focused on providing administrative support to senior teams in hospitals and other healthcare environments such as UHN, the OMA, and most recently the Heart Centre, Critical Care Services, at Sickkids. I am excited about this opportunity to assist learners navigate and access the services provided by our OLA Team.
Student Support Administrator (UTM campus)
I have a Business Administration, Marketing Management diploma from Sheridan College. I’ve worked within the post-secondary environment since 2005 and within the University of Toronto community since 2010. In my previous job at Sheridan College, I engaged with learners on a behavioural level while managing the campus bar. This experience motivated me to pursue working with learners to support their academic growth and development in a post-secondary setting. As an administrative professional, my role here is to assist and guide learners through the process of accessing resources. I also plan events and generally try to make your time at the University of Toronto as enjoyable as possible! Most people have come to know me as the fun-loving sports enthusiast, with the large collection of OppoSuits (eccentric suits/blazers).
Learner Life Specialist (LLS)
Carole Sandy is a multi-faceted clinical therapist working with individuals, couples, and families. She has worked in various clinical settings and has assisted MBA and undergrad students through some of the most difficult and exciting times in their educational journey. She is passionate about breaking generational hurts, supporting students as they transition to new careers and celebrating their strengths through supportive conversations. Carole has worked with many individuals in post-secondary settings and the marketplace. Through her experiences she has gained inspiration and insight from how creative and resilient many people are when facing their challenges.
Lisa van der Laan
Learner Life Specialist (LLS)
OT Reg. (Ont)
I am a Registered Occupational Therapist and have a Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of Toronto. Prior to joining the Office of Learner Affairs, I worked as an Accessibility Advisor supporting students and staff in health science professional faculties to help navigate and implement disability related accommodations. Another aspect of my clinical background was working at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), supporting young adults and adults with mental illness in their recovery journeys and with their goals. I hold additional certifications including in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. I like to utilize a client-centred and holistic approach in my work. I am passionate about helping to support learners as they navigate intensive professional programs. My hope is to help learners feel safe and supported, develop coping strategies and build on their strengths.
Learner Life Specialist (LLS)
I am a registered social worker with experience in the areas of workplace stress, burnout, mood disorders, chronic pain and work/life balance (especially as it affects parents). I have worked in a number of settings including post-secondary education, community mental health and private practice. I use an integrative approach based on evidence-based therapies including Mindfulness, EFT and CBT. I also pursue advanced training in psychotherapy to stay current in the field. I use a trauma-informed lens in my practice and strive to create a safe space that is non-judgemental and confidential.
Learner Life Specialist
My name is Sara Abura and I am a registered social worker with a Masters of Social Work from the University of Toronto. I have recently joined the Office of Learner Affairs on secondment until February 2024. Prior to this role, I was working at Accessibility Services as a mental health Accessibility Advisor with students in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. I have also worked as a social worker on a mood and anxiety inpatient unit at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
My approach is client-centered, strengths based, holistic and inclusive, using skills from therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and mindfulness. I ground my work in evidence-based best practices; but most importantly, it is also guided by you and your therapeutic goals.
I am passionate about helping others to become self-aware and build capacity to confidently take control of their lives in a way that is healthy, fulfilling and purposeful. My hope is that I can help you understand and identify patterns in your behaviour that no longer serve you and develop the coping skills and tools to manage them. I hope in our work together that you will feel better able to cope, grow and flourish in your everyday life, academically and personally. You deserve to thrive and take control of your life. It takes courage to seek help but please know that you can and I hope that you do.
Learner Life Specialist (LLS)
Hello my name is Saunia Palmer Nelson. I'm a Registered Psychotherapist and have 7 years of experience. Prior to becoming a Learner Life Specialist I worked at Turning Point Youth Services as a Counsellor for an Intensive In Home program, as well as Associated Youth Services as a family Counsellor and Morneau Shepell as a Counsellor. My areas of expertise or subjects I've gotten training in already are CBT, EFT, crisis intervention, trauma, family dynamics, FASD, anxiety and depression. I've enjoyed my work experiences so far, and I am very excited to work with you all in this role.
Joanne Leo (on leave)
Learner Life Specialist (LLS)
BA (York), M.S.W. (Toronto), R.S.W.
I have worked in the mental health field for the past twelve years. Before joining the OLA counselling team at the University of Toronto, I worked in both clinical and research settings in hospitals, universities, and community mental health agencies. I am passionate about helping others to become more aware and accepting of their thoughts and feelings to engender change. For medical learners and trainees, school and work can be a time of significant stress and burnout. You may be having trouble juggling the academic and/or professional demands of medicine while trying to remain healthy; this, at times, may seem impossible. I want you to know that we are here for you and there is hope. My approach to counselling is to create a safe space for all to express their challenges while encouraging them to build on their strengths, face their fears, and practice self-compassion. My hope is to help you manage the unpredictability of life and move toward your true values to experience meaningful lives and careers.
Dr. Kar-Ming (Ming) Lee
I am the consulting psychiatrist for the OLA. My role with the program is to support the team in navigating cases with psychiatric concerns. My clinical background is largely in the areas of student health and psychiatric service through the collaborative care model. In addition to my work here, I am also part of the clinical team at the University of Toronto’s Health and Wellness Centre.
Dr. Heather Flett
Professor, Learner Wellness
Dr. Heather Flett is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She is an active educator in Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Continuing Medical Education. She served as a Director of the Postgraduate Wellness Office from January 2018 to September 2021. She is currently completing a Masters of Health Professions Education with Maastricht University, Netherlands. Her graduate and scholarly work centres on health professional wellbeing and organizational strategies to support clinician wellbeing and healthy/safe work and learning environments.
Dr. Reena Pattani
Director, Learner Experience
MDCM (McGill), MPH (Harvard), FRCPC
I am a clinician-teacher in the Department of Medicine and a staff physician in Internal Medicine at St Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto. I have worked with learners at all levels on the frontlines and also served as the Internal Medicine clerkship site co-director and the General Internal Medicine Fellowship site director at my hospital. In these roles, my goal has been to help learners thrive, and not just survive, through their training. Training to become a physician is challenging in so many ways, and we have a responsibility to ensure that you have support and guidance to become the best versions of yourselves. If you feel unsettled by something that you have experienced or witnessed, I am here for you to unpack it and determine next best steps. I will earn your trust and work hard to be your advocate. Please feel free to contact me anytime!
Dr. Meeta Patel
Assistant Director, Learner Experience
MD (McMaster), MScCH HPTE (U of T), CCFP(EM), FCFP
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM), within the Division of Emergency Medicine (EM) and a staff physician in emergency medicine at North York General Hospital (NYGH). I am a Faculty Development Lead for the Division of EM, DFCM. I am an educator in Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Continuing Medical Education and have held roles in education leadership such as the Preclerkship Site Director and Undergraduate EM Site Director at NYGH. I have an interest in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion as it pertains to health and learning locally within the hospital and university as well as advocacy in having all voices heard and supported.
Dr. Chetana Kulkarni
Director, UG Learner Affairs
Dr. Chetana Kulkarni is a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, clinically based at SickKids. Throughout her career to date she has been involved in teaching, supervising and mentoring medical students, residents, fellows and inter-disciplinary learners. She has held a number of educational leadership roles and has received several teaching awards. She is thrilled for this opportunity to work with learners who are early in their health care careers in order to help make positive changes in the culture of medicine. She strives to bring a sense of humour, openness & compassion to her work.
Dr. Shauna Phillips
Lead, Academic & Clinical Skills Enhancement
Dr. Shauna Phillips is the faculty lead of the Academic and Clinical Skills Enhancement program. She is a family physician and Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at University of Toronto. She has been formally teaching clinical skills since residency. Everyone learns a little differently and she strives to connect students with helpful resources and to create a safe learning environment whereby students can explore and gain confidence while developing their academic and clinical skills.
Dr. Sheliza Ibrahim
Faculty Advisor for Student Achievement (MAM)
Dr. Sheliza Ibrahim is our Faculty Advisor for Student Achievement for the Mississauga Academy of Medicine. She is also an Assistant Professor with the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in Science Education from York University, a MSc in Science Communication from Queen’s University Belfast, and a Hons. Bsc. in Biology from the University of Toronto. Her early work was as an Associate Medical Editor and Science writer for The Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, Paediatrics & Child Health, The Canadian Journal of Cardiology and The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases. Currently, she conducts and teaches research in the field of Mathematics Education, Environmental Education & Science Education. In the Institute for the Study of University Pedagogy at UofT Mississauga she teaches Numeracy for University & Beyond and conducts various international research projects in Higher Education. She applies decades of research and scholarship on learning theories and systems of institutionalized education to the ways in which learners can explore their learning and metacognition. Learning Journeys is an important approach to framing our experiences as we navigate new knowledge and succeed in our academic pursuits as a journey that is constantly growing and evolving. Dr. Ibrahim joined the Office of Learning Affairs to support medical students on their learning journey. Appointments can be booked for online and in-person sessions that are one-on-one or small group. You can setup an appointment by viewing her availability on Veribookand submitting a meeting request.
Dr. Molly Zirkle
Director, Career Advising System (Interim)
Molly Zirkle graduated cum laude from Yale University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the Harvard Combined Otolaryngology Training Program. She is a staff surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital and an Associate Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Toronto. She holds a Master’s in Education and served as Director of the FitzGerald Academy from 2010-2021. In this role she developed a great appreciation for the influences of medical education on future doctors and strives to create a constructive and welcoming space for all learners, patients and colleagues.
Colleen O'Connor, BA, CWC
I am a Career Development Professional with over 20 years experience in non-profit, public service, and academic settings with a specialized focus in coaching healthcare professionals. My approach to supporting medical students is strengths-based, empathetic, collaborative, grounded, and practical. I recognize that choosing a specialty is one of the most important decisions you will face as a medical student. As a career professional, I assist you with speciality exploration and decision-making, developing your career narrative, and providing individually tailored support with the residency application and interview processes. In support of student success, I actively collaborate with students, faculty, staff, and internal and external networks to develop, implement, and deliver a range of resources, coaching supports and initiatives to support you throughout your medical school journey and your match to residency.
As a career counsellor, I have a passion for supporting medical students through their journey towards residency. As a registered psychotherapist, I use foundational therapy tools to support students in learning more about themselves in order to achieve their goals and make decisions. I am well-versed in the nuances of the medical school journey and work hard to ensure that students feel safe & supported. I take a solution- and goal-focused approach to assisting students with residency decision-making and the CaRMS application & interview process.
Dr. Laila Premji
Director, Career Advising System (on mat-leave)
Dr. Laila Premji is the Director of the Career Advising System at the Office of Learner Affairs. She is a Clinician Educator, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and a Paediatric Hospitalist at The Hospital for Sick Children. As the Director of Career Advising, Dr. Premji developed and implemented the Career Advising and Preparation (CAP) course at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine which is a four-year longitudinal course aimed at building career related skills over the entire continuum of medical school. training. Her goal at OLA is to ensure that all students receive the support they need, using an EDI lens, recognizing that not all student needs as they relate to career advising and planning will be the same.
Dr. Charlie Guiang
Director, PG Learner Affairs
Dr. Charlie Guiang is the Director of Postgraduate Learner Affairs. He is an Assistant Professor in the Dept of Family and Community Medicine and a Family Physician at St. Michael’s-Unity Health Toronto with clinical expertise in HIV Primary Care. A previous Site Residency Program Director, he is the recipient of multiple postgraduate teaching and mentorship awards including the Sarita Verma Award for Advocacy and Mentorship. He is honoured to provide support to PG Learners and Programs and looks forward to helping learners achieve success.
Dr. Shaheen Darani
Associate Director, PG Learner Affairs
I am a clinician-teacher in the Department of Psychiatry and a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I have had the privilege of working with learners as a teacher and in a number of education roles, including Site Postgraduate Director at CAMH, Chair of the Safety Subcommittee, and recently as the Director of Faculty Development in our Department. In these roles, I have been committed to helping our learners flourish during training and supporting them in achieving their full potential. If you are struggling with your wellness, performance, or feel you may need accommodations, I am here for you to listen, to advocate on your behalf, and to share information and resources. My goal is to provide a psychologically safe space where you feel comfortable to share and to work together to support your success while training.
PGME Accessibility Advisor
Moira has focused her career and research on students—most recently, she was supporting University students in accessing barrier-free education through universal design and individualized accommodations. As PGME Accessibility Advisor, she aims to continue her work in promoting institutional inclusivity and equity. Moira is a registered Occupational Therapist who values a collaborative approach that highlights the expertise of the student in their unique experiences, strengths, and motivators.