When you think a CEO or President’s office, you imagine luxury carpet, opulent leather armchairs, elegant lighting, fancy paintings and a classy cabinet dominating back wall. When I entered SNU President’s office I was shocked to see a simple tiny desk, a modest seat for visitors and boxes of medical supplies around. A setup quite unlike one would expect. A basic hard chair behind desk hosted a petite lady in surgical uniform. You could feel her self-confidence balanced by warmth and compassion. So, who really is Dr Golnaz Naderkhani, PhD, the President of SNU?
She studied medicine in Western Canada, also finding time to do research and learn other skills – like a certified search and rescue canine unit professional and a search dog trainer – among others. Studying surgery and becoming a fine urology specialist, this young doctor has always been motivated by making as much positive difference as possible – you could say it is her life goal. She did not need to wait long for opportunity. When hurricane Maria devastated Dominica she dropped her brilliantly developing hospital career and joined medical team of Canadian volunteers bringing relief to Dominicans in need of medical attention. In addition to her regular tasks she helped homeless people, visited prison offering her medical assistance, and kept her schedule bursting with additional work.
During that time she noticed that – while the whole island was badly affected by hurricane – it was animals that also suffered – but without any chance of help.
When her time as volunteer was up she decided to continue her work in Dominica, creating Dominica’s first and so far only Animal Rescue and a no-kill shelter that works as volunteer-run dynamic charity known around the island (www.snar-dm.com). One would say – what an achievement. But for Dr Naderkhani it was just the beginning. Realizing that real change in the Caribbean animal welfare can only come through education and expanding veterinary base, she simply decided to open a veterinary university, putting everything she had into this project. More of qualified and compassionate veterinarians are needed in the whole Caribbean region to make difference, and other regions need more of fine vets too! She knew that her university needs to offer fine education in pair with standards of Canada or USA. She also knew that her new project will only make sense if her university offers not only quality education but also an affordable one. Many talented young people only dream of attending such universities, unable to afford the high costs – and SNU should make it possible, helping those with aspirations but lacking financial means.
And here we arrive at her President’s office again. After brainstorming different ideas such as building a fine new campus or pouring money into extensive renovations of leased premises, Dr Naderkhani decided to keep things simple. Money are needed to provide fine education, educational tools, and to bring experienced professors. This is what students really need. Shiny big windows, funky interiors and new university cars would however make SNU education more expensive without adding to the core of purpose – offering fine education. All unnecessary “fluff” has been cut down, older interiors were re-purposed for University, resulting in students getting more affordable education. Simple comfort where it matters, but without unnecessary splash.
I remember Dr Golnaz saying to me: “For our students it is just a short stop. They should not pay for unnecessary shiny stuff at SNU, but focus on education. Money they can save this way while keeping education level high, can help them starting their careers”. I can only applaud her progressive thinking as I can see that whole management activity is focusing on providing best education, fine international partners, and make SNU be known for its quality and value. However, another of her ideas also adds to the uniqueness of SNU. It is the size of each class kept intentionally small. Smaller groups can learn in more dynamic ways and with more attention given to each student. This is another key difference Dr Naderkhani is determined to keep. It also adds to a more informal atmosphere that keeps everybody feel more like in a group of friends and family, than in an institution. In turn it helps create life-long professional friendships and push motivation of working in a team – priceless additions to future careers. Animal Rescue operations add possibility of students’ everyday hands-on participation in real vet-related work – another important addition to practical education. While the University is still new, Dr Naderkhani’s concept starts to show its many advantages, all elements creating a brilliant little system.
Dr Naderkhani’s vision attracted very strong and loyal core management team. Thanks to it she can switch between tasks of the Rescue and University, knowing that all will be under control. That also proves very important when she goes back and forth to Canada, as she still considers Vancouver her home. She does not need to be physically in Dominica to know that all will go well at SNU. When in Dominica, you can find Dr Golnaz teaching in classrooms, going on animal rescue missions, attending to animals or chatting informally with students and volunteers – always in her surgical scrub uniform, ready for action. She does not know what holidays or weekends are – always working late hours and being quite hard on herself. After all – what is the best example for future veterinarians if not their University President’s hard compassionate work and readiness to tackle it all?
Derek Galon, October 2022