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Updated: Fri, 07/12/2024 - 12:16

McGill Alert. The downtown campus will remain partially closed through the evening of Monday, July 15. See the Campus Safety site for details.

Alerte de McGill. Le campus du centre-ville restera partiellement fermé jusqu’au lundi 15 juillet, en soirée. Complément d’information : Direction de la protection et de la prévention

Here’s to memory makers

Her good work has stretched from Haiti to Cameroon, from Nepal to Turkmenistan. Now, Christine Hwang, MDCM’92, has found yet another way to help others, this time, through a gift to “class connectors” in the McGill Faculty of Medicine Undergraduate Medical Education program.

When the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) helps hard-hit communities stem cholera, measles and yellow fever, they call on Hwang for her expertise. A delegate for the IFRC, she jumps in to help in disaster-zone field assessment and coordination.

At home in Ontario, she is Medical Director of Toronto Public Health clinics. As an alumna, she has long wanted to create an award to recognize students who do their utmost to make medical school memorable for all. “I liken it to a Mr. or Miss Congeniality,” she says, of the award she endowed in 2017.

The Christine Hwang Leadership Award recognizes a second-year medical student in the Faculty of Medicine who fosters a positive environment through leadership, initiative and community involvement. The inaugural award went, in fall 2017, to Florence Gagné.

For Hwang, the tradition of giving back to the Faculty began as a student, when, like Gagné, she was an active volunteer. She edited the yearbook, wrote for the medical student newspaper, coordinated a blood drive, and served as treasurer for the Medical Students’ Society as well as for her class. At the same time, she says, there was an inclusiveness that went beyond individual efforts. “There were a couple of exchange students from Denmark, and people in our class made sure they felt welcome.”

Humanitarianism has always been a driving value of Hwang’s. A daughter of two socially minded educators, she has an early memory of working with her father stapling together the math books he authored when her family lived in Jamaica in the late ’60s and early ’70s. From 1999 to 2000 she provided training to more than a thousand health workers in post Khmer-Rouge Cambodia.

“I had one of the best years of my life,” she says. She has since completed seven missions with the IFRC.

Those missions had her driving along Nepal’s perilous cliffs, with eyes regularly looking upward for potential rock slides. In Haiti, she was seconded to the kitchen after a colleague fell ill, her off-hours training as a pastry chef sorely tested as she cooked for 100 people. “Here I am in the morning, setting up the vaccinations in the public health tent, then running back to the kitchen to work on the menu and then going back to the tent.” And in Cameroon, she taught a communications officer about cholera. “At the end of the four months, he became a cholera expert.” She recently found out he now runs regional cholera outbreak programs.

Hwang’s gift recognizes those who show a similar initiative to hers. Medicine Focus looks forward to checking in with Gagné and other recipients in the future, to learn how they continue to follow in Hwang’s footsteps.

Uniting force

Last year, Florence Gagné decided her class needed some help to stay in touch. With rotations starting across various hospitals, a regular meetup seemed in order, to relieve stress and encourage a sense of community. Gagné, a candidate of the Medicine Class of 2019 and active member of the Medical Students’ Society (MSS), joined forces with classmate and MSS colleague Camille Paradis to launch a monthly 5 à 7 at the Meredith Annex. “You can see friends you haven’t seen in a while and share,” she says.

Her classmates appreciate these get-togethers, as well as others that she has organized, so much so that a committee of them awarded her the inaugural Christine Hwang Leadership Award. The distinction recognizes a fellow student, not for their marks, but for their ability to bring their class together.

In their meetings so far, benefactor Hwang and recipient Gagné have talked about how important it is to balance intense studies with social events that foster community. “What people remember most about med school is the bond that was created,” says Gagné.

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