Maya Pajevic

Maya is a guest contributor for Ashoka U's Student Changemaker Stories campaign. She is a current undergraduate student at Mount Royal University and a CHILD-BRIGHT National Youth Advisory Panel Member.

From Patient to Advocate: A Changemaker by Chance

This blog is part of Ashoka U’s Student Changemaker Stories: a campaign bringing together diverse student changemaker perspectives to shift the narrative around what it means to be a changemaker and who can be one – on campus and beyond. Each story concludes with a note of gratitude and call-to-action from the author.

No one wants to become a patient, but almost everyone will experience the healthcare system in some shape or form. For me, it became a reality in the summer of 2002.

I was a happy and healthy kid, with an ambitious goal of one day representing Canada in either downhill skiing or ice hockey. That dream soon came to a halt, when at the age of six, doctors diagnosed me with Type 1 Diabetes. That night, I suffered a massive stroke.

The day after my stroke I underwent open-heart surgery as two more blood clots were discovered in my heart. Doctors concluded that the possibility of functioning at an “age appropriate level” was a distant dream.

A Deepened Understanding: Navigating the Pediatric System

In the pediatric system, I felt that I was the captain of my care more often than not. My team of providers truly cared about me as a person, instead of a set of body parts.

When the opportunity to become a patient advisor became available later on in my journey, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to give back to the Alberta Children’s Hospital – a place that helped me find who I was again.

As I transitioned from the pediatric into the adult side of healthcare, I soon realized the power I had as an advisor. The more I understood, the more I felt drawn to help fix a fragmented healthcare system into one that is centred on the wants and needs of the patient instead of being mandated by deeply held protocols, beliefs, and values.

As a patient advisor, my role was multi-fold. I worked to leverage networks with various stakeholders, I spoke publicly about person-centred care, and I challenged health administrators to think differently about delivering care that works from the patient point of view.

Collaborating with Other Changemakers

During my gap year between high school and university, I met the lead of Design4AHS; a small team dedicated to transforming healthcare in Alberta to become more human-centred. With my reputation and track record as a ‘get stuff done’ patient advisor, I received a coveted internship with the team.

With my growing knowledge and skills as a patient advisor, I realized how important the work of Design4AHS was. They utilized a different way of thinking – a ‘yes and’ mindset. They formed meaningful relationships with their community and wanted to dig deeper into the root causes of problems. They always had relevant stakeholders in the co-design process and were the patient’s ally in every discussion.

Design4AHS was a demonstrative organization for changemaking, and for my student journey.

Finding Connections Between Internship and Coursework

With my powerful intern experience with Design4AHS, I found my niche in the Social Innovation Minor at Mount Royal University. The internship had equipped me with an agile style of work and with useful frameworks for taking risks to transform complex systems. In classes through the Social Innovation Minor like Storytelling and Systems and Agents of Social Change, the course content and structure gave me the ability to strengthen and refine my agency skills, as well as deepen my understanding of systems thinking.

What I’ve come to experience as a patient, patient advisor, intern, and current student is that every individual has a role to play when it comes to changemaking.

Whether your role is challenging politicians on their inaction around climate change, to questioning authority, to prioritizing end-users and moving beyond the status quo… We all need to work collectively, rather than individually, towards systems change.

Changemaking is Not a Siloed Sport

In my personal journey, I channelled my anger and frustrations as a patient by becoming a patient advisor. I then continued to use the platform and my understanding of the system to work on changing the culture of healthcare. I feel that everyone has a part, no matter how small, in improving systems for themselves and others.

I believe higher education is not about lengthy lectures or countless hours of assignments to receive a degree. In my experience at Mounty Royal University, I have been encouraged to see my university as a place for fostering critical thinking and transferrable skills to apply them to real-life problems.

Each day as students, we can form networks together.

Each day, we can challenge our peers to think outside the box.

Each day, we can embrace how our personal experiences strengthen and inform us as changemakers.


Closing Words from Maya

Interested in reading more student changemaker stories? Jump back to our full list of stories and contributors!