Fresh Faces: Christina Popescu, MD

Born in Romania but raised in Edmonton, Christina Popescu found her way to medicine through a bit of a circuitous route.

Sasha Roeder Mah - 26 November 2021

Born in Romania but raised in Edmonton, Christina Popescu found her way to medicine through a bit of a circuitous route. She spent her youthful years preferring outdoor activities to sitting in a classroom, where her intellectual curiosity was often left unsatisfied. These days, she’s firmly focused on the ultimate goal of designing a better mental health-care system for Canadians, a path she already started down during her time at McGill University in Montreal, where she spent more than three years helping to build a startup that aims to improve the treatment of depression using machine learning.

What is your academic background?

I received a master of science in neuroscience from McGill University (where I also received my bachelor of arts and science in honours cognitive science with a minor in philosophy). For my masters, I studied how drugs of abuse during adolescence affect the developing brain and how those changes differ between the two biological sexes in mice.

What made you choose the U of A?

Academically, the U of A MD program seemed so wonderfully diverse in the types of learning experiences available, as well as the various opportunities open to students, both on campus and beyond. I felt a deep connection to the pedagogical paradigm shift in progress here; for someone as passionate about teaching and learning as I am, this was critical. In fact, it was really the factor that made me feel like it was the best place for me to gain the knowledge and skills I will utilize on a daily basis when serving the community in the future.

On a personal note, the city is very close to my heart: I grew up in Edmonton and even got my citizenship here so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. And I am so glad I did!

What inspired you to choose this program?

Reflecting on my personality, passions, and life experiences, it is not at all surprising that I ended up down the path of medicine; however, it took me quite some time to figure that out. I actually started out as an athlete wanting nothing to do with academia, but that didn’t exactly pan out. Long story short, I fell in love with the brain—its immense complexity and mystery, both in normal function and in psychopathology—and decided to pursue medicine. I have since spent my time studying the brain as a basic scientist and a clinical scientist and want to dedicate my life to improving the quality and accessibility of mental health care in Canada by pioneering a multi- and interdisciplinary mental health clinic, and I need the knowledge and skills I’ll gain in this program to make that dream a reality.

What are you most enjoying in your new program?

As cheesy as it sounds, I am absolutely thrilled to start the journey to becoming an actual physician. It has been an almost intangible goal for so long that I still find it difficult to wrap my head around the idea of this opportunity in the first place.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges on this new path?

I think it will be challenging to find where I fit in both on campus and in the greater professional community. The plethora of opportunities and experiences available for MD students are truly mind-boggling, so finding a sustainable lifestyle that includes my many passions will be difficult to say the least. On a different note, one challenge I am very aware of is that of getting to know my class, as silly as that may sound. I truly hope I can get to know all of my remarkable colleagues better over the next four years.

How is the ongoing pandemic affecting your experience?

It does, of course, add to the stress, confusion and anxiety of a demanding workload at the best of times. That said, I think it is good preparation for real life as a health-care professional, in the sense that you’ve got to be able to work in whatever format (whether in person, virtually, or some other way) and connect with the professional and local community, irrespective of what is happening in the world. Taking a silver-lining approach, this is quite possibly the best training to learn how to be adaptable and handle just about any situation in the future. 

How do you unwind from your busy studies? 

I love skating and horseback riding, both of which I used to do competitively. I also enjoy cooking, reading, catching up with friends, or simply going out for a walk with my puppy, a one-year-old little black and silver schnoodle named Ramona. I’ve also recently really gotten into the world of Formula1, thanks to Netflix.