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    Iris Liu (IMP Class of 2012) spent the summer of 2009 doing medical mission work in the U.S. and in the tropics in conjunction with New Heights Church. 

    In July, she shadowed several doctors at the New Heights Clinic in the U.S. This clinic is partnered with New Heights Church and the purpose of the clinic is to provide medical care to the underserved - in this case, for those without health insurance. A typical “work week” at the Clinic included “clinic time” and “curriculum time”.  Clinic days began with a group prayer among nurses, doctors, receptionists, administrators, medical care coordinators, dieticians, counselors and volunteers.  Afterwards, Iris spent time shadowing her mentors, eventually getting the opportunity to practice interviewing skills and charting skills and perform a few physical exams.


    At the end of the day, she would sit down with her mentors and review the cases they had seen that day as well as talk about topics she had explored on her curriculum days. Curriculum days were designed for rest, reading and listening to talks on various topics related to what it means to be a doctor and a Christian.  Iris appreciated the guidance she received from these mentors and to see with her own eyes how they “walk the talk” - serve the disenfranchised with compassion and selflessness.

    In August, Iris spent two weeks with a team of medical doctors, nurses and medical students from New Heights, travelling to remote villages on the other side of the globe (she is not able to disclose the locations for security reasons) to provide medical care.  At each village the team set up medical “stations” where villagers could go to get treatment for various medical conditions and receive medications when required.

    Iris had some memorable encounters with patients during her time a these medical stations: the kid who spat out the Albendazole medication; the man who walked in with two broken arms (still praying for his healing); the man who’s ears Iris cleaned in front of an “audience” of kids and adults. One patient in particular captured her heart. A young girl, probably around 8 years old, came in near the end of the clinic day, alone, with no parents in sight.  Iris was asked by one of the doctors to do a malaria test.  The test came back negative but her symptoms matched malaria and she had been in a malaria zone.  The doctors took the precaution of proceeding to treat her for the disease.  Iris was moved by the girl’s calm - not the calm that came from assurance, but the calm that came from hopelessness. She spent time comforting the girl by singing to her and holding her hand.

    Overall, Iris had a fantastic time, and she really appreciated all the work that her mentors had done behind the scenes to make the summer memorable. As she moves onto her clinical years, she will be continually thinking about experiences, both in the United States and abroad, as she works out what it means to deliver care with compassion and love.

    Sarah Peters and Anita Holtham (IMP Class of 2010) are members of the UBC X-Country ski team who competed in the last event of the 2009 BC Cup series (which includes the University series) in Kelowna on February 7 and 8. Both women came away with several awards: Sarah place first in the Women’s category and also won the overall BC University Series Women’s category; Anita finished 4th in the Women’s category and both Sarah and Anita were part of the winning relay team! Sarah and Anita are photographed on the left with their team mates (front row, Sarah on the left and Anita on the right).

    You might wonder how these third year medical students (who are busy completing clinical rotations in Victoria area hospitals) find the time to train for x-country skiing competitions…and how they train for the sport in a city like Victoria!


    Sarah agrees that training in 3rd year has been a bit of a struggle. “I think it has worked out though because Anita and I are in different rotations (i.e. she has the energy to get us out there some days and I other days). During the week, we do ski bounding (running with poles) at Mt. Doug, run at Elk Lake and go to the gym at Commonwealth (elliptical trainers are the best for reading and sweating!!)”. Sarah also roller skis early in the mornings around the UVic Ring Road, before she has to be at the hospital for her clinical training.

    Real skiing is more difficult. On weekends or days off, Sarah and Anita try to get to Mt. Washington to train on snow. In December, when most Victorians were lamenting the arrival of snow, Anita and Sarah took full advantage of the opportunity to get in some skiing on local golf courses!

    Unfortunately, neither Anita or Sarah are able to attend the Canadian College and University National Championship being held in Duntroon, ON in March due to their clinical rotation commitments (last year Sarah and Anita were 4th at the nationals in the 2-person relay). However, Sarah is excited to be a fill-in guide for a Canadian visually-impaired skier who will be racing in an International Paralympics World Cup (and 2010 Paralympics qualifier) at Mt Washington on March 11-15th, 2009.

    It’s Tuesday morning at Victoria’s “Our Place” sanctuary for street people, and medical student Sarah Peters (IMP Class of 2010) gently washes, massages and salves a woman’s life-worn and needle-punctured feet that are resting in her lap. Our Place - now in temporary quarters on Johnson Street - is a combination of the former Open Door and Upper Room that provides a haven for the homeless, street-weary, drug addicted and those seeking relief from loneliness or the torment of mental illness.

    Peters is giving weekly foot therapy sessions there, as part of her second-year Doctor, Patient and Society program, a requisite course for future doctors, now studying medicine on Vancouver Island through a collaboration of the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. Students may choose an independent project as part of the program’s community service learning.

    Student Volunteer

    Peters’ pedicure corner - just two plastic chairs, a garbage bag-lined washbowl filled with hot water and Epsom salts; soft white towels, peppermint foot cream and dusting powder, and spare fresh socks - is a peaceful oasis amid the usual breakfast-time hubbub, TV sports news chatter; and pool table clicks, shouts and laughter. She applies fresh band-aids; chats quietly and non-judgmentally discusses care of the needle wounds. The woman, totally relaxed by the comforting foot treatment, falls into a deep sleep. Bliss for once that didn’t come from a syringe or a bottle.

    “I do seem to have a soporific effect on people,” says Peters, cheerfully greeting familiar faces as she crosses the crowded room to refill her bowl for the next person. Peters has become extremely popular since she started doing foot treatments in October. Her pedicure sign-up sheet fills up as soon as she walks in the door. “It’s awesome,” says Eddie Golko, rolling up his jeans for his foot treatment. “Being homeless, you feel like a bum, not worthy. Being pampered, important enough to be taken care of, that makes me feel like a somebody again, like I’m still human.”

    “I’m getting to know people, hearing their stories and finding out why they are where they are,” says Peters. “I was surprised, many were just ordinary people leading everyday lives when something happened, or a series of events led them into the cycle of addiction, poverty and homelessness.” Peters believes this experience will prove valuable in her future medical career. “I’m beginning to understand the impact of homelessness and the struggles people have with mental illness and addictions. It’s huge,” she says.

    Such knowledge and understanding is exactly what the directors of the Doctor, Patient and Society curriculum are hoping to achieve through the one half-day-a-week course taught during the first two years of medical studies. The course, developed in Vancouver in 1998 as part of the UBC MD undergraduate program, continuously evolves in its goal to give students an understanding of the realities of practising medicine within a context of social accountability. It addresses the doctor/patient relationship and professional responsibilities in a diverse socio-cultural milieu. Guest lecturers from all walks of life and tutor-led discussions help students to address issues that they are likely to encounter in medical practice such as abortion, drug addiction, Aboriginal health care issues, ethics and the effects on health of poverty and homelessness. Students are encouraged to do independent follow up and research into their own areas of interest.

    “The practical community service component that Sarah has chosen is an ideal way to come to grips with the harsh health realities for people coping with homelessness,” says Dr. John Anderson, Doctor, Patient and Society course director for the Island Medical Program. “She is learning a great deal about others and herself and is also providing an enormous service for the Our Place community.” “No kidding,” says Sandy Bell, an Our Place outreach worker. “I can’t tell you how much it means to have Sarah here.” Many of the homeless suffer from “street feet,” which, Bell explains, are really sore feet, blistered and damaged from walking around all day with no means to change socks and shoes or care for their feet.

    Peters, a former Canadian cross-country ski champion, who has now taken up marathon running as an antidote to the demands of a medical degree, understands what it means to put your best foot forward. “Of course it would be wonderful for some of these people to give up drugs and get a new life off the street …but that’s the big picture. If what I do helps people to feel better about themselves, then maybe that’s a first step for them,” she says.