A New Doll Honours The First Black Female Doctor In Her Field In Canada

Dr. Alexandra Bastiany is Canada's first Black female Interventional Cardiologist. And she's from Montreal!

Contributing Writer
Dr. Alexandra Bastiany stands next to a doll in her likeness by  Brown Diva Dolls. Right: A doll in the likeness of Dr. Alexandra Bastiany by Brown Diva Dolls.

Dr. Alexandra Bastiany stands next to a doll in her likeness by Brown Diva Dolls. Right: A doll in the likeness of Dr. Alexandra Bastiany by Brown Diva Dolls.

Courtesy of Brown Diva Dolls

Growing up in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood, Dr. Alexandra Bastiany said she wishes she had more Black dolls to play with. Now, she's become one.

In honour of Black History Month, Montreal-based Brown Diva Dolls has released a limited-edition doll version of Dr. Bastiany, who's Canada's first Black female Interventional Cardiologist — complete with her same skin tone, glasses, scrubs, lab coat, stethoscope and natural hairstyle.

Dr. Bastiany, 35, said she was "surprised," "honoured" and "excited" when Brown Diva Dolls founder Clara D. Lewis pitched her the idea, especially considering she was already a fan of the company, which is known for its inclusive dolls in a diverse array of skin tones — including those with albinism and vitiligo. But she did have a couple of requests.

"When I was a kid, I thought my hair like this was not professional. I was told it wasn't professional. I couldn't wear a 'fro at work or school. So when I spoke to Clara I was like, 'You can make whatever you want, but I really want the doll to be a dark girl because I'm a dark girl and I want her to have curly black hair because I have curly black hair.' And she delivered. I fell in love with the doll right away," said Dr. Bastiany.

A doll in the likeness of Dr. Alexandra Bastiany by Brown Diva Dolls.A doll in the likeness of Dr. Alexandra Bastiany by Brown Diva Dolls.Courtesy of Brown Diva Dolls

"Representation matters because you know what they say: when you can see it, you can be it."

Although Dr. Bastiany described a childhood dominated by straight-haired, blue-eyed toys and white-skinned characters in books and on TV, she did have real-life role models of Black people in science: her mom is a nurse and her dad is a chemist.

She graduated from the Université de Montréal medical school in 2011 before completing her fellowship in Interventional Cardiology at the University of Alberta. Today, she works at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Bastiany recalled being one of just a few Black students in her med school class, as well as being at the 2019 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress conference, looking around and noticing, "Wow, I'm the only Black person here."

Standing out hasn't always been easy for Dr. Bastiany. She said she faces microaggressions as well as "open and overt racism" on a regular basis from colleagues and patients.

"I remember being in the elevator once and someone was playing with my braids… I'm a physician, so I can't react because then you're being called the angry Black woman, which I've heard as well," she said.

"It's always very triggering to talk about these things. I don't want to be perceived as the person who's always complaining about how hard it is to be a Black girl in medicine… but it's important to talk about it because, unfortunately, it's still happening."

To combat racism in medicine, Dr. Bastiany said she’d like to see medical schools accept more BIPOC students, pointing out that Canada's first Inuk heart surgeon only recently completed her residency.

Dr. Bastiany also stressed the need for Canada to start collecting race-based and Indigenous data related to medical careers "because if we don’t have numbers, we can't change reality."

Lastly, she said we must create safe working and growth environments in which BIPOC physicians feel "respected and accepted," ushering them into leadership positions.

Despite many challenges, Dr. Bastiany said she loves her job and hopes the 'Diva Dr. Alex' doll inspires kids to go after jobs they'll love too.

"It's not even about becoming a doctor. I want these kids to know that you can become whatever you put your mind to. The world, the society will try to stop you, but if you really want it, just go for it," Dr. Bastiany said. "There's no such thing as a glass ceiling. I want this expression to disappear."

Lewis of Brown Diva Dolls knows a thing or two about chasing a dream career. After 28 years as a social worker, witnessing the negative impacts of low self-esteem and bullying on children, she launched her doll company in 2019 with the goal of making kids "proud of their beauty" and "less intimidated by a child who is different from them."

Brown Diva Dolls.Brown Diva Dolls.Courtesy of Brown Diva Dolls

The company now has 25 different dolls on offer and ships worldwide, having received orders from across Canada, the United States and places in Europe. You can also find Brown Diva Dolls at Tour de jeux locations in the CF Fairview Pointe-Claire, Complexe Desjardins and Centre Eaton shopping centres.

Lewis said her "biggest satisfaction" comes from knowing the dolls are being used as educational tools to teach kids about "le vivre ensemble" in several classrooms in Montreal, Toronto and the U.S.

She plans to honour a new person with a doll each Black History Month.

The 'Diva Dr. Alex' doll is currently available for pre-order on the Brown Diva Dolls website.
Ilana Belfer
Contributing Writer
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