In her second year of med school, Anne Bouthillier started noticing that a lot of patients did not recognize the signs of a stroke.
“With a colleague, we started Démasquer l'AVC, a stroke-prevention initiative, doing conferences in community centres for seniors, at companies and in different settings,” says Bouthillier, who has just earned her McGill MD degree and is about to embark on her residency in psychiatry.
“The pandemic made it more difficult to continue this kind of social event, so we did videos on stroke prevention for distribution.”
The initiative helped Bouthillier earn a Quebec Lieutenant Governor Youth Medal. She is one of four McGill students to receive the honour this year. The prestigious award recognizes the involvement, determination and constant striving of Quebecers who have or have had a positive influence in their community. The other McGill medalists are Logan Stack, Sophia Roy and Vassil Kroumov.
The pandemic has actually steered Bouthillier’s study choices to a certain extent.
“It’s a huge thing, so as a medical student, I found I had a role to play. I volunteered with public health authorities doing contact tracing” in April 2020.
With another McGill med student, she also created a virtual platform to reach seniors, the group most isolated by the pandemic. Déconfinement virtuel pour aînés centralized resources to help seniors navigate the web and find online activities -- from yoga classes and art courses to virtual museum visits -- to break that isolation.
“I personally witnessed this isolation, so managing this platform allowed me to understand and support this vulnerable segment of the population in an unparalleled way.”
As a result, she was invited to provide recommendations to Quebec’s health ministry concerning the health and well-being of seniors during the pandemic.
Research scholarship led to fascination with the neurological system
Among the distinctions Bouthillier earned before her Quebec Lieutenant Governor Youth medal was the Governor General's Academic Medal in 2016, awarded to the student with the highest overall academic average for all programs combined at her cégep, Collège André-Grasset.
At the outset of her medical studies at McGill, Bouthillier received a scholarship that gave her an opportunity to work on ophthalmology research. Since eye health can provide insight into the general health of the brain, the work led her to become fascinated with the nervous system. That, in turn, led her to do clinical rotations in neurosurgery, neurology and psychiatry during her studies.
Along the way, “I’ve been fortunate to have a privileged relationship with individuals living with various cognitive and neurological disorders, as well as with their families,” Bouthillier says. Those relationships stirred her interest in prevention and education.
Cultural harmony spurred interest in medicine
The Lieutenant Governor Youth medal “is a great honour,” Bouthillier says. “McGill is filled with very talented and engaged students. So to be chosen as a recipient recognizes that McGill, especially the faculty I was in for five years, is an environment that encouraged us to thrive and be engaged, not only in our studies, but also in our communities and as a person.”
Bouthillier also credits the harmony that her bi-cultural upbringing as a Lebanese Québécoise instilled in her, prompting her to pursue medicine in the service of people.
Nor has she forgotten that in order to help others, it’s imperative to help oneself.
“Sport is my passion. Rare is the day when I don’t swim, run or bike,” adds Bouthillier, who came in sixth in the 18-24 female category in the 2019 Montreal marathon, the first she ever ran.
“Sport training provides an added dimension to my personal ethics – a recognition of effort, perseverance and accomplishment,” she says.
“I hope that the determination at the core of my being will make me a physician who will make a difference on a personal as well as collective level.”