MD/PhD student profile: Helping under-served communities locally and internationally
As a young teenager growing up in Quebec, uOttawa MD/PhD student Alexandra Beaudry-Richard was captivated by books and TV shows about Doctors Without Borders and the way it championed the delivery of medical aid to places where it’s needed most.
One particular story about physicians performing surgery in the remote mountains of Afghanistan on a 15-year-old boy who had been severely injured by a landmine resonated with Beaudry-Richard. It ignited her passion for global health and shaped her unique career path in medicine.
“I was moved by the impact these doctors had on a person or a community in these remote, underprivileged or war-torn areas. Sometimes, it literally meant life or death for someone that would otherwise have no access to medical care,” says Beaudry-Richard. “In these places, every single doctor practicing medicine is irreplaceable.”
Even though Beaudry-Richard has completed just one of seven years of study in the highly-competitive joint MD/PhD Program at uOttawa, she has already completed two medical outreach trips to remote communities.
She first travelled to Panama in the summer of 2017 with the organization Floating Doctors to witness the health challenges of isolated communities, many of which are only accessible on foot through the jungle. Later in the spring of 2018, she completed a medical elective in northern Canada via funding support from the Faculty of Medicine’s office of Francophone Affairs.
These experiences provided insight into two very different parts of the world—which she saw first-hand had a great deal in common.
“While Yellowknife is a rich, well-resourced city, a significant portion of the population in the territories live in ‘fly-in communities,’ only accessible by plane. This means that many Canadians lack regular access to medicine just like the poorest regions of Panama.”
Beaudry-Richard explains that for many rural northern towns surrounding Yellowknife, doctors fly-in once every three months and often provide only acute or urgent care.
Still, what draws Beaudry-Richard to these areas is precisely their need for more doctors.
While completing her elective in the Northwest Territories, she was placed in a dynamic clinical setting, learning about obstetrics/gynecology, family medicine, addiction treatment and emergency medicine in just a few short weeks.
“It’s an incredibly interesting setting for learning,” she describes. “In communities like these, doctors must be sharp, knowledgeable, adaptable and resourceful. You use every part of your brain and your work is indispensable.”
By sharing her experiences, Beaudry-Richard hopes that more of her peers will consider practicing in remote, underserved communities–whether in Canada or abroad.
“These doctors serving remote communities could use more help,” she says. “And for students, it is the best place to learn, because you are exposed to every type of clinical situation.”
For the next three years, Beaudry-Richard will focus on the PhD component of her joint degree, travelling to San Francisco to conduct research on multiple sclerosis (MS) at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) under the co-direction of UCSF’s Dr. Ari B. Green and uOttawa’s Dr. Rashmi Kothary.
“MS is an international disease that can be observed in any part of the world,” says Beaudry-Richard, who adds that global health will always be part of her path. “I hope to develop new therapies for the disease that will make a global impact.”