March's Ontario Medical Student of the Month: Josh Stern

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Inspiration can come from the oddest places – in this case, it all started with a dangerous Facebook drinking game that was spreading worldwide and desperately needed to change. Neknomination, a social media game in which people post videos of themselves drinking ridiculous amounts of alcohol then nominating their friends to do the same, was becoming a global epidemic. As it went viral and friends began to one-up each other (resulting in the deaths of five young men), one man in South Africa named Brent Lindeque posted his own video helping a homeless man.

Josh Stern, a second-year University of Ottawa medical student, came across this video and was instantly inspired. In addition, words from Dr. Andrew Pipe, a key proponent in smoking cessation and health advocacy, stuck in Josh’s head. Dr. Pipe had told Josh and his peers that “if there is a problem that bothers you, think about who’s doing something about it; and if you can’t, then be that person.” 

With these words in mind, Josh decided to start his own social media movement called “Feed the Deed” to turn the negative Neknominations around into a positive pay-it-forward campaign. The change was simple – instead of nominating others to become dangerously intoxicated, Josh wanted others to perform a random act of kindness and nominate friends and family to do the same. 

After Josh posted his own video to Facebook of him giving food to the homeless with the hashtag #FeedtheDeed, the response he received was extraordinary. His friend Russell Citron, who runs the non-profit organization Kindness Counts, immediately contacted him and the two decided to collaborate on the project in hopes of spreading kindness across the world.

In just over 6 weeks, Josh has received over 10,000 #FeedtheDeed posts of individuals performing random acts of kindness from over 30 countries around the globe. These acts range from donating food and clothes to those less fortunate, all the way to people facing their fear of needles to donate blood for the first time. 

As a future physician and health advocate, Josh knew that the trend of Neknominations was unhealthy and simply dangerous for today’s youth to participate in. He felt it was important to steer people away from this game and channel their energy into something positive. Celebrities, like singer Nikki Yanofsky and entertainer Harley Morenstein, and companies both large and small have participated in #FeedtheDeed and have used their status to further increase its popularity. 

On top of balancing the demands of a medical student, Josh is constantly updating the Kindness Counts Facebook page with #FeedtheDeed submissions. As he watches the #FeedtheDeed videos pour in, Josh feels incredibly humbled by the amazing response his simple idea has achieved. The feedback he has received from both recipients 

and participants of the good deeds reminds Josh of the small difference he was able to make in so many people’s lives. 

Aside from Josh’s involvement with #FeedtheDeed, he actively participates in school interest groups such as “Students Working Against Tobacco” and “Sun and Skin Safety for Youth” that visit elementary and high schools across Ottawa promoting healthy living. Josh hopes that in his future practice as a physician he continues to make a difference in people’s lives. 

For being a leader of change, an inspirational role model to his peers, and a health advocate, Josh has been named OMSA’s March Medical Student of the Month.