Learning Goes Global
While the challenges of global health and infectious disease are immense, the power to effect positive change often begins with a single student working across borders to make a difference.
Take Philippe-Antoine Bilodeau (above left), a fourth-year McGill medical student and the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Freda M. Omaswa Travel Award for the Study of Tropical and Infectious Diseases, established to honour the legacy of an accomplished Faculty of Medicine graduate and promising researcher who passed away in 2016. The bursary (established by Omaswa’s classmates and funded through Seeds of Change) allowed Bilodeau to travel to KwaZulu-Natal in northeastern South Africa in 2017 to work with local physicians and medical students.
“From working with patients suffering from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and snake bites, to going out into the communities to provide care, I had a chance to see what rural family medicine is all about,” says Bilodeau. “My key tasks included seeing patients in the emergency department and various outpatient clinics, and accompanying the mobile clinics which went out in the villages to administer medications.”
Bilodeau, who is also a J.W. McConnell Scholarship recipient, says his internship in South Africa gave him insight into the various initiatives currently in place to fight HIV and TB epidemics, and provided an opportunity to understand the impact of living conditions, income and long-term discrimination on the health of individuals and populations.
“This travel award allowed me to gain a profound understanding of health as a whole, and of the importance of global health,” he says. “I’ve also had the privilege to see what actions are being taken to help fight infectious diseases in South Africa. I believe these experiences will not only make me a better physician, but a better citizen as well.”
When Cassandra Richards sat down with Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to discuss measures to address violence against women in the workplace, she knew that her internship was something special.
“Having the opportunity to talk to Minister Patty Hajdu was exceptional and something I could never have done in a classroom,” says Richards, a third-year law student who interned as a junior policy officer at the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations within the Human Rights division in Geneva in the summer of 2017.
Her experience was made possible thanks to funding from the McGill International Experience Awards (MIEA), established by McGill graduates Joseph Schull and Anna Yang in 2013. The opportunity meshed perfectly with Richards’s education, her abiding passion for human rights and access to justice, as well as her extensive volunteer work.
The MIEA internship allowed Richards to take her studies to the next level, learning about the global policies that enshrine human rights and giving her a firsthand understanding of the inner workings of the UN organization.
“My internship was during the time when Canada was working on the Human Rights Council resolution on the Elimination of Violence against Women,” says Richards, a native of Gatineau, Que. “So I was able to participate in the drafting of that resolution and sit in on negotiations with other countries around the world that have similar – or very different – views of human rights, while also learning about the art of diplomacy.”
Richards is now undertaking a second internship, through the Faculty’s donor-supported International Human Rights Internships program, expressly designed to increase access to out-of-the-classroom opportunities. She is working in Iqaluit, providing legal services to Nunavummiut residents in the areas of criminal, family, poverty, youth protection and civil law. Through these enriching experiences, she has acquired a profound appreciation for the impact of internships and the value of real-world experience in shaping her education, her career, and her life.
“I have learned so much, both personally and professionally,” adds Richards. “I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have been able to do that.”
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