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City Government

2013 Medical Student Award Winners


Hillary Bohler is a local student, having completed her secondary education at Hammarksjold High School in Thunder Bay. Upon graduation she was awarded a full (100%) athletic scholarship for springboard/platform diving (with a 5 year duration) to the University of Wyoming – which is a NCAA Division I School. After completing 1 year of studies in nursing, she was presented with The Mountain West Conference “Scholar Athlete Award”. Hillary quickly came to understand that home is where the heart is - after completing one year of studies, Hillary voluntarily returned home to Thunder Bay to complete her studies.

Hillary was accepted in to the Compressed Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree at Lakehead University. She was presented with the Lakehead University Undergraduate President’s Award of special gratitude upon graduation – based on student involvement and academic success. She was also the recipient of the Dr. S. Penny Petrone Career in Medicine Scholarship – based on scholastic achievement and a future career in medicine. Hillary is currently in 3rd year of medical school at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (Thunder Bay campus) and is currently completing a regional clerkship in Kenora this year.

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree, prior to her admission to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Hillary was employed as a Registered Nurse at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital. She is currently working throughout summers and during medical school to financially support herself and further her experience in health care. Notably, Hillary was awarded the Northern Ontario School of Medicine Dean’s Summer Medical Student Research Award to work on researching mental health in university students last summer.

Hillary has demonstrated her ability to act as an exceptional citizen through various volunteering initiatives. She acted as the Regional Director of the Altitude Health Care Mentoring Program last year, a branch of the Ontario Medical Association. This program encourages secondary school students from across the region to consider a career in health care. She has played an active role in AIDS Thunder Bay, acting as a dedicated volunteer since 2009. Hillary has also had various volunteer experiences through the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. She was the Advertising Team Chair for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine Students’ Charity Christmas Concert in 2012, Social Media/Networking Team Chair for Rendez-Vous International Conference Student Organizing Committee in 2012. Hillary is also an active member of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine Student Society Wellness Committee.

Physical fitness and activity have always been important to Hillary, with Diving being of particular interest to her. She was a National Level diver with the Thunder Bay Diving Club prior to entering medical school, and was a diving coach with the club until 2012. Her most recent aquatic accomplishment has been becoming certified as an “Open Water Diver” with the Scuba Schools International (SSI). Hillary is a group fitness instructor with both the Athletic Club and then Canada Games Complex. She enjoys playing softball, a sport she’s played since childhood and running. In 2013 Hillary completed the Thunder Bay Fire Fighters 10 Mile Road Race, for the first time.

Hillary’s familial connection to Thunder Bay is one of the main reasons she has chosen to remain in the City. Born and raised in Thunder Bay, she has developed invaluable friendships, support systems and interests while becoming accustomed this superior quality of life. She would like to be a role model for young women who are interested perusing careers in medicine – explaining the importance of maintaining a balanced/healthy lifestyle while being an engaged member of the community. She is deeply invested in the community of Thunder Bay through the various volunteer organizations she supports and is keen to give back to the community as a family physician upon completion of Residency.


Dr. Anna Laakso was born in Toronto and moved to Thunder Bay at the age of 14. She attended Sir Winston Churchill C. & V.I. graduating with the academic Bronze medal. She attended Lakehead University in the Honours Bachelor of Kinesiology program, graduating with the Dean Braun’s Medal for the highest academic average. She attended the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s undergraduate medicine program, graduating in 2011, and attended NOSM’s postgraduate residency program, graduating June of 2013.

Dr. Laakso tributes her mother, the late Rubina Soviero, as her driving force through medicine. Her mother fostered a strong work ethic, faith, compassion for others, and passion for whichever life path her daughter chose. In her later years and failing health, her daughter witnessed medical care at its finest and learned many lessons that would later prove priceless in the development of empathy with her patients.

Dr. Laakso has a varied volunteer profile. She has been a past-President and executive member of the Kinesiology Association of Lakehead University, a Note Taker with the Lakehead University Learning Assistance Centre, a high school mathematics tutor, a Surgical Day Care volunteer at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and an Admissions Assessor for both the undergraduate and postgraduate medicine programs at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. She has also been a part of the NOSM Canadian Residency Matching System committee, speaking with potential candidates and organizing the Thunder Bay Food tour, which allowed NOSM to showcase what Thunder Bay has to offer the taste palette. She was also the President of the West Campus Family Medicine Interest Group for one year, and served on the executive thereof for 3 years.

Dr. Laakso has also had research experiences throughout her undergraduate university and during her undergraduate medical education. She received a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Award during each of her four summers in Kinesiology; was a contract researcher in 2006 for the North Superior Training Board (now the North Superior Workforce Planning Board), assisting in the development of the first draft of the Health Care Opportunities in Northwestern Ontario resource; worked as a contract researcher with the Northwestern Ontario Asthma Clinic in her first year of undergraduate medicine; and received a Heart and Stroke Foundation Summer Student Research Award in the summer of 2009.

Dr. Laakso also worked through her first year of medical school at Charm Diamond Centre where she helped fund some of her living expenses.

Since her teenage years, Dr. Laakso has loved Thunder Bay and when given the opportunity to leave, still chose to stay in the city that has become her hometown. She found the love of her life in Thunder Bay, Mr. Shawn Laakso, and wed in the summer of 2011. She looks forward to many, many years raising a family with her best friend in this city. For these reasons, she has been most pleased to be able to start up her family medicine practice at the Superior Family Health Organization and start to meet some of the unmet medical needs of Thunder Bay.


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Kayla’s goals are to complete her medical school studies at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and practice medicine in Northern Ontario. Kayla graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology, First Class Standing (Lakehead University) and was also the recipient of the President’s Award for her outstanding contribution to the school community and academic efforts. Kayla is currently completing her third year of medical school and as part of NOSM’s Comprehensive Community Clerkship year and her placement is in the small northern community of Sioux Lookout where she is enjoying every minute of the experience.

Her personality, background, experiences, and dedication to the community through her numerous volunteer contributions demonstrate what a young, caring, and well-rounded local citizen can achieve with passion and dedication. Her involvement in school and community organizations began during her high school studies at St. Ignatius. During her undergraduate degree at Lakehead, she thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work with others interested in careers in medicine in leadership roles with the Pre-Health Society, as a Student Ambassador, and as a Communications Officer with the Orientation Office. She also worked diligently to encourage healthy living and a smoke-free lifestyle as Campus Program Coordinator with Leave the Pack Behind. Kayla was exposed to the hospital environment while volunteering with the Emergency Department and Operating Room Family Waiting Area at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. In recognition of her contributions to the medical and larger community of Thunder Bay, Kayla is a proud recipient of a “Walk the Talk” Award from the Hospital and a Citizen of Exceptional Achievement Award from the City of Thunder Bay.

In addition to maintaining outstanding academic results and trying to master clinical skills in her undergraduate medical education, Kayla is heavily involved with the NOSM Student Society and holds representative positions with both of the provincial and national medical student organizations. Kayla works with other medical students in provincial-wide events that assist students in their pathway to medicine and ensures that their northern voice is heard when lobbying the government with student concerns. On the national scale with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, she was recently nominated as the National Officer of Student Wellness. Last year, she was the Chair for the first-ever Wellness Retreat for medical students, providing learning opportunities and activities in all aspects of wellness. As National Officer, Kayla hopes to raise awareness about the varying dimensions of student wellness and seeks to standardize available resources and counseling services at medical schools across Canada.

Kayla strongly believes that in order for her to succeed in medical school and as a physician, she needs to continue to balance in all facets of her life – that includes her involvement in athletics and extracurricular activities. She was a competitive figure skater for eleven years with the Thunder Bay Figure Skating Club and has continued her involvement within the figure skating community as a Coach and Judge. Currently, while in her medical clerkship, she is also volunteering with the Sioux Lookout Figureskating Club. She also enjoys the outdoors and continues to stay fit with her passions of CrossFit and running.

Finally, family is something that has always been one of Kayla’s strengths and supports. Her desire to practice Family Medicine in Thunder Bay has a lot to do with the fact that her grandparents had the same physician for over 50 years – this sustainable and healthy professional relationship is one that she truly admires. Her experience thus far as a student with NOSM has encouraged balance and provided her with the opportunity to continue to thrive as a significant part of the community, as a leader in medicine, positive role model, and dedicated member of the community of Thunder Bay.


Dr. Jennifer Swerdlyk is a first year resident in the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s (NOSM) Family Medicine program. Born and raised in the City of Thunder Bay, she attended St. Thomas Aquinas, Sacred Heart, and St. Patrick High Schools.

Jen spent many years training as a classical pianist. Taught locally, Jennifer completed years of lessons, courses, and exams through the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music/Conservatory Canada. Throughout university and medical school, Jennifer taught piano lessons as a part-time job to support her post-secondary education.

Jennifer completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Lakehead University, followed by a Master’s in Nursing and Family Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner degree in Duluth, Minnesota. Prior to entering medical school at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in 2009, she worked at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) as a surgical nurse, and at Children’s Centre Thunder Bay as a pediatric-psychiatric nurse. Jennifer believes that the experience she gained as a nurse has been invaluable and certainly an asset while going through medical school.

Throughout medical school, Jennifer was exposed to many exciting and diverse clinical settings, but she found the most enjoyment in family medicine clinics. Family medicine allows for the experience of a variety of patient ages, conditions, and skills. As well, it provides the opportunity to develop rapport with patients over time. Jen states that the family physician’s office is the hub of care for most patients…the initial point of access to the health care system; the first place for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment; the organization of referrals and services; and the place for comfort and familiarity of a trusted clinician throughout difficult times in the lives of patients. For these reasons, Jennifer plans to open a family practice. Jen states that she also has a strong interest in child psychiatry and would like to incorporate this into her family practice.

Over the years Jennifer has been very involved in volunteer activities in both the community as well through NOSM. For more than 12 years, she has been the co-director of a church youth group, through which she organized multiple fund-raising and social events; liaised with other club leaders, youth members, and parents; and managed the financial budget. She has also been the director of a youth choir for over 13 years during which time she has organized music programs and directed regular youth masses. Based on her work with youth, Jennifer was selected as a representative spanning from Kenora to the east coast to greet Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, which, she says, was quite an honor and a privilege.

Jen was also an assistant coach for softball teams, and a counselor on several occasions for children’s camps. Through the school of medicine, she has been involved as a volunteer counselor and instructor for the NOSM Summer Science Camp for children of Northern Ontario. Jen was also the musical director for the NOSM Holiday Concert for Charity in 2009 & 2010. In that capacity, she was responsible for arranging the performers, the practices, the musical program, and for directing the NOSM choir for performances. This fund-raising event, founded by her class, has, to date, raised over $25,000 for local organizations, including the new cardiac catheterization lab at TBRHSC, the Friends of Olivia Foundation, the Underground Gym, and Shelter House Thunder Bay.

Jennifer enjoys curling and attending hockey games in the winter, playing baseball in the summer, spending time with her boyfriend (who also works in the medical field in Thunder Bay), as well as going out to the cottage with her family at Cloud Lake.

Jennifer fully intends to stay in Thunder Bay to work upon completion of residency. Her family and partner are main driving forces for remaining here, as well as the lifestyle that Thunder Bay has to offer with close proximity of living to work, beautiful parks and trails for enjoyment, and the convenience of being able to quickly be enjoying time at the lake. As well, there are many wonderful possibilities that Thunder Bay has to offer with regards to clinical opportunities in family medicine. For these reasons, Jen will open a practice in Family Medicine in Thunder Bay.