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Dr. Madeleine Cole, MD’98

Arch Award Recipient - Community Commitment Award 

Recognizes graduates who have made outstanding and significant contributions to their community through their professional or volunteer service. 

It doesn’t take a lot of research and study to know that Nunavut can be a challenging place to live – isolated, limited access to services and entertainment, frigid temperatures. Living, working, and residing in the youngest of Canada’s territories comes with a unique reality in comparison to other locales in Canada, and Dr. Madeleine Cole, MD’98, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cole is a committed northerner, a physician, a mother, an lqalummiuq and a true member of the northern community. She has made a career in maternity care, paediatrics, emergency medicine, hospital medicine, Indigenous health, and community medicine in Iqaluit and other communities in Nunavut, since 2000.

 “I love my work and having met and been helpful to lots of people and learned from them,“ says the 2023 Community Commitment Arch Award recipient, whose large impact within Nunavut communities is mirrored through her life, work and experiences around the world. “It is true that 20 years or so has slipped by in Nunavut – but I do feel strongly connected and committed to other places I worked or learned in such as Guyana, Sudan, Ghana and the Philippines.”

Dr. Cole’s commitment to these communities has seen her become a champion for change with regards to health care, access to services, human rights, equality, and justice. She has advocated on behalf of children, adolescents, elderly, victims of abuse, those experiencing homelessness, palliative patients, and community members in need of support. Dr. Cole also developed and continues to maintain an ethics committee, utilized to address and discuss important topics such as consent for sterilization, medical assistance in dying, and rights to care closer to home. Sprung out of identified community need and fervent desire to do right by those she serves, Dr. Cole’s can-do perspective and dedication at the intersection of social issues and health outcomes has contributed immensely to the social accountability of the local hospital in Iqaluit.

“She has enormous integrity and authenticity; she is quietly competent and kind; she is a visionary; and she is very smart and has always been an amazing doctor,” says nominator Dr. Gabrielle Savard, PhD ’84, MD ’98, a classmate of Dr. Cole’s in medical school.

Understanding and committing oneself to helping to address complex social and political issues, especially in the field of medicine, means a dedication to immersing oneself in the culture of the communities that one looks to serve. Dr. Cole has a good grasp of basic Inuktitut, having taken courses in the language, which enables a more personal and comfortable sense of care in her clinical practice, in particular with local Elders. She also joined a sewing circle comprised of and led by local women. Indeed, Dr. Cole made her first pair of sealskin boots alongside younger women and Elders, forging personal bonds and an authentic connection to their culture, all the while learning and discussing local problems and concerns, they face.

As physician lead for the Nunavut Residency Program, Dr. Cole worked closely with Memorial University of Newfoundland’s the Discipline of Family Medicine. She has developed and built a true legacy in the community by passing on part of this passion to residents and medical students from other universities, some of whom have even returned to work full-time in Iqaluit. Dr. Cole also encouraged university graduates from Nunavut to choose careers in health care and medicine-related fields, going so far as to arrange many sponsorships, to support and reduce barriers in this regard. Currently, three of these local graduates have returned to Nunavut to practise medicine, supporting the ongoing championship of accessible and quality health care in the territory.


Dr. Madeleine Cole

Attend Alumni All-Access

As in previous years, the Arch Awards kicked off Alumni All-Access (Oct. 12 to Oct. 22, 2023). Everyone is welcome to join in on ten days of amazing events to discover new ideas, explore what UCalgary has to offer and have fun! 


We are social beings, infinitely complicated collections of stardust, and will all benefit from being kind and helpful. To borrow from Ubuntu: I am because we are. Thank you to my family, and to all who have shared their experiences with me to make me who I am.

Dr. Madeleine Cole, MD’98

Getting to know Dr. Madeleine Cole

Was there any particular moment that stands out for you with the University of Calgary?
Truth be told, medical schools often feel to me quite separate from a university, which is unfortunate. The University of Calgary experiences that stand out for me were skating at the Olympic Oval, and playing lots of squash, and running, and also going to Lilith Fair for great music at McMahon Stadium in 1997. The medical school was a very friendly place and not too big and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have lived in Alberta for three years. My close friend from medical school — Gabrielle — introduced me to so many amazing corners of the Kananaskis and the Rockies, and we ran up and down the trails on Nose Hill many a time. With my housemate, Ian, and a few other Skinks [medical school grads at UCalgary adopt animal names for their class year], quite a lot of running happened, training around the Glenmore Reservoir, then down to the Waterton Relay and then over to Seattle for our first marathon.

You have dedicated so much of your career to the North. What drew you to Nunavut and its communities?
I have always loved to experience new places and cultures. I might not have expected to end up, 25 years later, practising meaningful medicine in Nunavut as I spent quite a while volunteering with underserved communities in very hot places: Sudan with MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] and in Guyana. However, since working north of Lake Superior with First Nations kids at Outward Bound in my early 20s, I knew I would maintain a commitment to Indigenous health and communities. As a medical student at Calgary, it was easier to get funding for electives in Ghana and the Philippines than it was to find an elective in an Indigenous community in our own country. Things are getting better, but there remains a huge knowledge gap, or intentional amnesia about much of Canada’s history and present relationships with Indigenous communities. Back at medical school, after a bunch of cold calls, I pitched my way into spending a month in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella, B.C., for a month of formative family medicine in a wonderful community. As a family medicine resident, I was able to spend two months in Iqaluit, as well as an elective in Moose Factory, Ont. What had me return to Nunavut is a combination of extremely challenging, full-scope old-school family medicine and the beautiful people that call Nunavut home. My partner, Kirt Ejesiak, is one of those people — actually, his family name means “beautiful eye.” I also love the land; kayaking and skiing and roaming the tundra are happy pursuits — but am I allowed to say that I really do miss trees and songbirds?

Is there something about Nunavut or the North in general that only a few people know that you wish others knew?
There is one easy learning I’d like people to have about Nunavut, meaning “Our Land” in Inuktitut, which is how to pronounce the name of Canada’s newest territory. It is not “none of it.” It sounds phonetically more like “noonavoot.”

The Inuit language (Inuktitut and other dialects) is a strong and beautiful and widely spoken. In addition to language, many positive and pro-social Inuit societal values flourish now, despite 100 years or more of painful colonization.

Inuit are some of the most generous people in this country. Whether it’s for famine relief in other countries, or a kids soccer team: despite widespread poverty, people give generously. Food-sharing is an important part of the culture, as well. Just a month ago, when skiing with my daughter, we were given a freshly skinned arctic hare out on the land to take home and cook. Societal values in the North are less fixated on individual needs and are mindful of the wider well-being of all and of the sinews of kin and community that bind us.

As well, to get political: Nunavut is huge — three times zones wide and sparsely populated — and, in many ways, geography is destiny. The costs of living and of health care and other services are astronomical and people living in the far north of Canada need appropriate federal supports: per capita funding doesn’t work up north.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Lying in a hammock, novel in hand, swinging gently with a baby asleep on my chest, in a world without war.

Which living person do you most admire?
Buffy Sainte-Marie is a beautiful musician and human, a pacifist and activist who uses art to affect change. If the world was guided by Buffys, there would be no war in Ukraine; women in Iran and everywhere could wear what they wish; and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women calls to action would be answered.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Forgiveness. It’s complicated. While it’s healthy to let go, many things are not forgivable.

Which living person do you most despise?
Hate is not a helpful sentiment, but I do endorse the following: “mean people suck.” Best to limit the power of harmful people through civic engagement — or, at the smaller scale, by cutting them out of your lives, if you can.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To let go of the past and not overthink about the roads not taken.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A bird. It sounds like a good life: to be airborne, play on the wind and to sing.

Where would you most like to live?
The grass is not greener somewhere else. It’s the people around you that matters most.

What is your most treasured possession?
An old uqsiq. It’s a beautiful bone tool that looks like a figure eight and is used to join the traces of a dog team to the kamotik [sled].

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote, among other things: “It’s not charity we want, it’s justice.” I don’t pretend to be as intellectual, but I admire her work and her views apply to many areas of human rights. 

These incredible alumni are changing the world with vision and purpose. Meet the 2023 Arch Award recipients.