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Paying forward what you can’t learn in a classroom

 Spouses Drs. Chris Patey and Daneile O’Dea, MD graduates from 2000, both travelled to Sweden to practise while they were students. But it was Dr. Patey’s experience in South Africa that set the stage for his future career and for giving back.

Dr. Patey has very vivid memories of his elective in South Africa because it taught him things he couldn’t learn from a book. “I fondly remember my six-week rotation in Edendale, in KwaZuly-Natal province of South Africa in the late 1990’s,” says Dr. Patey. “At the peak of the HIV epidemic, as a medical clerk, I rounded daily on internal medicine wards where patients in beds were stacked together in rows often touching. Treating tuberculosis and experiencing rare complications of end stage HIV led to knowledge difficult to obtain in a textbook in North America.”

“South Africa, in an unfortunate period of political unrest, led to overnight coverage in the emergency department with a continuous flow of trauma - gunshot wounds, stabbings, extensive burns, endless lumbar punctures and thoracotomies, fracture reductions and extensive wound closures. Supplies were limited so a second set of hands was welcomed and essential. I felt needed, truly learned on the spot, often completing procedures that would otherwise be limited to surgical residents and at the same time, experiencing a new culture, language and customs,” he added. 

“South Africa was an experience at the right time in my training that solidified my future drive to practice rural and emergency medicine.”

Dr. Patey went to South Africa during the peak of the HIV crisis and a lot of political unrest, he also practised in Ireland, Haiti and most recently, to Nicaragua (read about it in the latest MUNMED) where he gained a lot of perspective on what we take for granted here in Canada. Earlier in his education, in 2000, he travelled to Bangalore, India for a month of emergency medicine thanks to the generosity of Dr. Henry Gault. Drs. Patey and O’Dea want to pay that forward while giving back to their alma mater. So, they’ve established a travel award for students.
“These early golden opportunities in medical school definitely assisted with my comfort and continued desire to work in underdeveloped countries.”

Both Drs. Patey and O’Dea say they were fortunate to experience international electives early in their medical training and they believe it was this early exposure that provided perspective and insight. They also know that the first international elective experience is difficult to establish, both logistically and financially but they’re hoping this funding will create incentive and motivation for students.
The O’Dea Patey International Travel Award aims to increase the student involvement with international experiences (preferably an under-resourced country) and to provide a way for students to inspire and give back to other learners. When they return, the students must present and share their experience and what they learned with the donors and fellow students. In fact, Drs. Patey and O’Dea want their three young children to hear the stories as well. They’re hoping this will educate and inspire other students to explore international health. 
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