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I AM KITE Profile: Pooja Gandhi

Monthly features to profile the next generation of rehab researchers

When Institute Director Dr. Milos R. Popovic introduced the KITE Research Institute to the world two years ago, he had one goal – to redefine and broaden the rehab-specific perception of our work. 

The I AM KITE campaign, launched in January, pays tribute to the diverse up-and-coming talent at KITE who are making a huge impact in the world of rehab science. 

Today we introduce speech-language pathologist and member of the swallowing rehabilitation research laboratory, Pooja Gandhi. 

I AM POOJA GANDHI

ABOUT POOJA
NAME: Pooja Gandhi
EDUCATION: Current PhD student at University of Toronto, MSc in Speech-Language Pathology, University of Queensland
KITE TEAM: Swallowing Science
RESEARCH FOCUS: Swallowing impairment in Parkinson’s disease

PROFILE 

Pooja is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and PhD Candidate at the Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory at The KITE Research Institute. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University, her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Queensland in Australia, and is currently pursuing her PhD degree at the University of Toronto. 

Her doctoral research is focused on understanding the physiological mechanisms that lead to swallowing impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Her interest in Parkinson’s disease was spurred by clinical encounters in hospital wards, where she worked with patients who had both Parkinson’s disease and dysphagia, and how these conditions impacted their health outcomes and quality of life.  

Identifying and implementing interventions for dysphagia 

Pooja's research is looking to identify disease-specific impairments, which could then be translated in order to find therapeutic interventions. This will guide the next steps in her research, focusing on the systematic evaluation of these treatment interventions in patients with Parkinson disease.

Given her dual passions for patient care and research, Pooja sees herself becoming a clinician-scientist in the future. This , she says, will be the ideal way to identify clinical questions important to speech-language pathologists and patients, and fill this gap with her scientific endeavours.

If her research could change one thing in the world by tomorrow, she says she would like it to make a difference on how research is conducted in the field of speech-language pathology. “The quality of the evidence we use to inform our clinical practice is contingent on the robustness of research methods used, and how findings are reported. As much as there's a need for solutions in the speech-language pathology world, there is an equal – and perhaps, greater – need for clear standards for trustworthy conduct and reporting of research.”

Part of her current work is focused on creating a methodological framework and standards for rigour and transparency in dysphagia research. She is hoping for a widespread adoption of such standards to promote better-quality research internationally.  

WHY KITE? 

“KITE is renowned as a hub for innovation and collaboration. As the number one ranked rehabilitation research facility in the world and part of the University Health Network, KITE provides trainees and faculty an incredible network to work with in order to produce ground-breaking work. It supports a culture of discovery, which encourages trainees to explore new areas of interest, and new methods of conducting research.” 

Moreover, KITE is renowned for its spirit of mentorship. With faculty like Professor Catriona Steele, it allows trainees to work with world leaders in the field, and provides them the optimal platform to build research pathways for themselves, she says. 

Finally, Pooja says KITE promotes a sense of community. “My journey as part of the Steele Swallowing Research Laboratory is testament to how KITE facilitates strong professional and personal connections. These connections have provided the foundation for all my work, and my future career.” 

WHY SWALLOWING REHAB? 

According to Pooja, the most rewarding aspect about her job is working to find answers to questions that may prevent or treat dysphagia-related complications for patients, and implementing these answers at the bedside. 

She says, “I am also very grateful for the Steele Swallowing Research Laboratory (SRRL) ‘family’ I consider myself lucky to be a part of. Working with incredible people promises to be rewarding, regardless of what it is we work on. My wonderful research experiences are courtesy of the fantastic mentorship and sense of community that SRRL and KITE have provided me.” 

POOJA AND I AM KITE 

“The ‘I AM KITE’ video makes me feel inspired to be a part of a community that is driven by a desire to, at its core, better understand and optimize the health and well-being of patients, and the science that drives the care we provide for them.”  

ART AS EXPRESSION

In her spare time, Pooja has always embraced art as a means of reflecting inwards and expressing perspectives and ideas outwards. Amidst the uncertainty that spanned the pandemic, she and her partner co-developed a graphic medicine initiative called Healthcare in Hues. 

“We hoped that this art-based platform would resonate with individuals from all walks of life and that it would bridge the gap between healthcare workers working in their bubbles and the broader public by sharing glimpses of the pandemic’s frontlines via art.” 

The project has been well-received and their work was featured as the cover page of the Canadian Journal for General Internal Medicine as well as in the Annals of Internal Medicine.