Making impacts to quality of life through scientific research

Milena Gojsevic standing in front of staircase smiling with two of her edited avatars on either sideMilena Gojsevic (she/her) is the Co-op Student of the Year for the Faculty of Science. During her work term at Sunnybrook Hospital, she displayed commitment and curiosity towards scientific research. Milena delves into the details of her impressive journey as a clinical research assistant.

Milena Gojsevic smiling headshot

Milena’s role at Sunnybrook was patient-centric and her main tasks included patient interviews, information analysis and communicating study information with the hospital team.

She also took the initiative to lead first-authored pieces of literature. Milena is recognized for her research on the quality of life for malignant spinal cord compression patients.


“Over my two terms, I completed three literature reviews on several different topics with the primary focus being radiation dermatitis, the skin reaction resulting from radiation as part of cancer treatment.” 

Where do you think you made the biggest impact?

“What I think was the most impactful and influential work I did was a literature review of almost 200 studies on the quality of life for malignant spinal cord compression patients, which is a very debilitating and dire diagnosis for a patient. So that was in collaboration with the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer for multiple year projects.”

“It was the initial stages of creating a tool for those patients, which, if developed successfully by the research group would be the first ever tool to exist for those patients. So, I felt incredibly honoured to be working on that project and making some kind of contribution to such a big project that would impact countless numbers of lives if developed.”

How valuable has mentorship been to you as a young professional?

“It's absolutely invaluable. The principal investigator I was working under has so many connections and he was able to connect me with people in different fields, such as statisticians when I was working on a paper that had a statistical focus, or different doctors that specialized in what I was working on.”

“That allowed me to become knowledgeable in those niche fields in a way that I did not expect I would when I started my co-op position. They helped me develop my research abilities and gave me confidence to propose my own studies and do that research.”

How does it feel to win this award?

“It definitely means a lot to me. I know there's so many other very brilliant and capable people both within my program and in the Faculty of Science overall that are doing amazing work. So, I feel very honoured to have been awarded the Co-op Student of the Year Award.”

What impact has your co-op experience had on you?

“I had very meaningful conversations with patients. When talking about the quality of life of breast cancer patients, emotional distress and vulnerability are big factors. Seeing the difficulties they face definitely touched me and motivated me. I saw a couple of malignant spinal cord compression patients as well and they have a very poor quality of life, especially if they're diagnosed late into their spinal cord compression.”

“The tool that I was working on will continue even after my co-op terms and will be able to quantify the patient's quality of life such as the degree of their pain or their emotional state post the diagnosis or treatment. So, I'm very glad I was able to contribute to helping them in some way and I'm excited to see how that project is followed through and how that tool is developed in the future.”

What interests you about research?

“What's novel and new has always excited me. Over my co-op terms it’s been great being able to apply the foundational knowledge that I learned about in class and to be able to understand the latest discoveries to see where the field of medicine is headed. The problem solving that's required in research is something that I really like to do.”

“I think a big part of why I like research is the ability to impact people and make a difference. It’s a goal that I can dedicate myself to and work hard towards, which is what attracted me to the clinical research position specifically.”

How was it being trusted with so much responsibility as a co-op student?

“In my first term, I just focused on familiarizing myself with the research terms that they use in medicine, which can be very confusing for someone who's never worked in that field. I was mainly focused on collecting patient data and working in clinical trials, which involved interviewing the patients.”

“I returned to that job for my second work term and I felt much more comfortable proposing studies to my supervisor. He also had a lot of trust in me and believed in me. He gave me the opportunity to come to him with my own ideas and helped me develop those ideas. By the time I started my second term, I was initiating my own studies and working with him to figure out the conceptual basis for those studies. I saw those studies through to final publication in my second work term.”

“It’s very surprising to me, considering two years ago, when I came into the co-op program, I wasn't expecting to be leading my own studies or to be contributing in such a profound way as an undergraduate student.”

Milena Gojsevic smiling in front of a blue background

“The reason I was able to do it is because I had so many great mentors that my principal investigator, Dr Edward Chow, connected with me with at Sunnybrook. I also found amazing colleagues in other co-op students at Waterloo who helped me and grew with me.”

What’s next for you?

“I definitely want to pursue more school because I really like school. A path like graduate school and doing a master's degree or trying to get into medical school would interest me very much.”

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