At the time, I was a medical student early in my clinical training, doing an elective rotation at Casey House and entertaining a faint career interest in global health. I had returned from the sub-Saharan African country of Zambia just a few months earlier where I had been working on an HIV research project. The trip had left me pondering questions about social activism, the role of Canadian doctors in international health, and my responsibilities to vulnerable populations as a physician. I had not met very many doctors involved in global health, and I was intrigued by this woman who had spent almost a decade working in Niger and was now receiving an award for championing the cause of HIV/AIDS in Africa locally. A few weeks later, I heard the name Jane Philpott again, in the context of the opening of a family medicine residency program with a focus on global health. I tucked all these pieces of information away in the back of my head.
Fast forward three years, a few more international experiences, a pervasive and growing desire to engage in global health, and a number of residency interviews later, where, at present, you can find me most days working in the residents’ room beside Jane’s office at the Health for All family medicine clinic at Markham Stouffville Hospital. I am now in my second year of residency, and one amongst the first cohort of residents to train in family medicine with an emphasis on issues of multi and cross-cultural health, as well as health of populations that are marginalized and vulnerable both locally and globally.
Despite this, I must be truthful in admitting that many days, the health and well-being of those living on other continents is far from my mind. Residency has a way of making you focus intently on the here and now – the patients on your list for that morning, the on-call shift you are working that night, the presentation you are (frantically, always) preparing for the next day. Mostly, this is good and necessary: I want to give my undivided attention to the patient who is sitting right in front of me. Yet it is so easy for me to forget to consider the global context of the health and wellness of populations – and my reasons for becoming a doctor in the first place.
In as much as Give a Day is a chance for me to contribute in a tangible way to the efforts of fighting HIV around the world, it is also a reminder for me to reflect on the motivations that I promised to stay true to during my medical training, like global health equity, social justice and human rights. What is remarkable about Jane is that I believe these issues are always at the forefront of her mind. For her, Give A Day is lived out every day of the year.
The two organizations that Give a Day supports, Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation, have deep personal significance for me, as the founders of both wrote books which directly influenced my decision to pursue a career in global health. If you Google the salary of a second-year resident in Ontario, and divide this number by 210 (the number of working days in a year), I will be donating this amount, rounded up to the nearest hundred, to the Give a Day campaign on Dec. 1.
For some of you, this amount may be too little. To this I say: Great! I’m delighted that you’ll be able to give more!
For some of you, this amount may be too much. To this I say: That’s okay; it’s not how much we give individually, but the sum of our efforts that will make the difference.
And isn’t this the point of Give a Day, after all? The seemingly daunting, insurmountable task of an AIDS-free world will one day be achieved through – and only through – the synergy of our collective contributions.