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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 7 | May 2, 2002

Medical Education Delivers Unexpected Benefits

Routine visit reveals long lost family.

By Brian Lin

When Shannon Waters entered UBC's medical school she always expected that one day she would graduate as a doctor, but she never expected the experience would unite her with a family she never thought she would ever meet.

It happened last summer when the 25-year-old from Chemainus First Nation was interning in Duncan, B.C. She was working with Dr. Stephen Faulkner, who has worked in the community for 15 years.

"One day we went to the native elder's centre for lunch and Dr. Faulkner mentioned my mother's childhood name, and a half-cousin of mine recognized it and came over to meet me," recalls Waters, who ended up meeting her cousins and great aunts. "They didn't know what had happened to my mother, and there I was. It was amazing."

"My mom was adopted off a reserve near Duncan when she was seven years old, but she didn't have much contact with [her birth family]," Waters explains.

The experience was just one of a few firsts for Waters since she is among three aboriginal medical students graduating this year and one of only two successful candidates across Canada to be admitted to the inaugural year of UBC's First Nations Family Practice Residency Program.

At a time when rural medicine is suffering from a shortage of doctors, Waters is eager to move to communities with large aboriginal populations, where her skills and passion are desperately needed.

"In these areas there is often only one resident doctor, and you're managing what comes in the door," Waters says. "In First Nations communities in particular, you forge a really close sense of family with the entire community."

Waters recalls when she worked in the Queen Charlotte Islands and a patient passed away. "Half the village came to the hospital," she said. "It really brings the humanity back to medicine."

Eventually, Waters wants to play a role in affecting health-care policy changes that will benefit rural and aboriginal communities, but not before making use of her medical knowledge to help patients achieve better health.

"It still amazes me to have the honour to be part of their lives," she says. "But I know that even if I can't cure them, the way I approach them will make a difference in how they live out the rest of their lives."


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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