Feb. 29, 2024

Chance to shadow a researcher for a day inspired a heart for women’s health

Roopinder Sandhu to lead Libin Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative and clinic
A woman in a pink dress and a high ponytail smiles at the camera with her arm crossed
Dr. Roopinder Sandhu is the new director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative. Dawn Smith

Born and raised in Calgary, Dr. Roopinder Sandhu, BSc'98, MD, is bringing a wealth of experience back to the city as the new director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Clinic and the Martha Brauer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health Research. 

A clinician-scientist specializing in electrical problems of the heart, Sandhu is also a cardiovascular epidemiologist and health services researcher with a particular passion for women’s heart health. Sandhu has been busy since her return to Calgary in December 2023 and is excited about the future of women’s heart health care and research in the city. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity to take all of my years of training and my experiences in different environments and apply them to such an important cause that has been really neglected for many years,” says Sandhu. “We have an opportunity to develop a national centre of excellence right here in Calgary.”

Sandhu’s experience and education are varied. She received her undergraduate degree in biological sciences from the University of Calgary and her medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine. Her internal medicine, cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology fellowships were completed at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. 

From there, Sandhu obtained a master's in public health from Harvard School of Public Health and a research fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Prior to her return to Calgary, Sandhu worked at the Smidt Heart Institute in the Department of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was an electrophysiologist and associate professor.

A first-generation physician and the daughter of immigrants, Sandhu’s love of research and medicine was ignited with a unique opportunity she had as a high school student.  

“I won an Alberta Medical Heritage Foundation essay competition that focused on envisioning what medicine would be like in the future decades,” she says. “My prize consisted of shadowing an Alberta Heritage Foundation researcher for the day.”

The experience — which took place at the UCalgary’s Foothills Campus — was a light-bulb moment for the teen. 

“The most exciting part of the day was recognizing the important relationship between clinical work and research and how the two work together to move medicine forward,” says Sandhu. 

Sandhu never lost sight of the importance of combining the two disciplines, and she found a new passion during a cardiology rotation attended by a female interventionalist during her medical training. Not only did Sandhu find the heart fascinating, but she was also struck by how “cool” it was to see the success of a woman working in a predominantly male field. 

Sandhu was especially drawn to cardiac electrophysiology, which she says is a cerebral specialty in which she is often required to puzzle out what’s best for each individual patient. 

Throughout her training, Sandhu says she had numerous strong mentors — many of them women — who have inspired her to pursue excellence. She has certainly risen to the challenge. 

She has more than 130 research publications in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters and editorials focusing particularly on atrial fibrillation, syncope and sudden cardiac death. 

Sandhu has held numerous prestigious positions, including co-chair of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) Atrial Fibrillation Quality Indicators Working Group and co-chair of the CCS Clinical Practice Update on the Assessment and Management of Syncope. She has also served as a member of the primary writing panel of both the CCS Atrial Fibrillation Guidelines and the ACC/AHA/HRS syncope guidelines. 

She’s excited about her new role leading the Libin Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative and is optimistic about the future, adding the institute has the expertise and facilities necessary to facilitate significant changes in women’s cardiovascular health outcomes. 

“There’s a strong foundation already in place here, and I think there is a tremendous opportunity in establishing a clinic focusing on women’s cardiovascular health and in fostering research aimed at overcoming the existing gaps in women’s heart health,” says Sandhu.

Sandhu is also passionate about educating and empowering women about the importance of heart health. 

“I recently gave a talk in which I shared that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women and there wasn’t one woman in the room that knew that fact,” she says. “This is such an important topic, and not just for women. Everyone has a woman that’s important to them: a wife, a daughter, a mother, a friend, so this is a critical message to share with everyone.”

Roopinder Sandhu is a professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and the director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative and Clinic. She holds the Martha Brauer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM.

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