Through her medical training in northern B.C. and learning about the disparities in the provision of medical services, Dr. Lorraine MacDonald, MD’09 was inspired to practice as a family physician in rural and First Nations communities on Manitoulin Island in Ontario.
What is your current role?
I am a locum physician providing primary care services to First Nations communities on the Manitoulin Island.
What drew you to the Northern Medical Program (NMP)?
I was very interested in the smaller class size and the location of the program. I was also drawn by the reputation of UBC as an institution. I had worked with a number of MDs during my time as a medic and a PA who had graduated from UBC. Those particular physicians were incredible – smart, knowledgeable, and compassionate. They were personable and approachable, and demonstrated real concern and caring for their patients. I wanted to be that kind of doctor.
Tell us about your favourite memory about studying in the NMP.
There were so many moments over the course of those four years. I think the first day after the Christmas break when we all gathered in the atrium of the NMP site. We had already completed the first semester in Vancouver so we all knew each other, but now it was just us and it was like the “real” beginning of the Northern Medical Program Class of 2009. I also have many fond memories of group studying and studying with my study partner, Amy Johnson. We spent hours at my house in my dining room with a large white board going over the intricacies of the kidney. UGH!!
What is your biggest takeaway from the NMP?
My biggest takeaway was not specific to NMP, but perhaps it was revealed to me more than if I had gone to medical school in a more traditional institution (big city school). I really had no clue about medical care in Canada and specifically in rural areas until I went to Prince George and traveled around northern B.C. through out medical school. I was aware of the disparities in the provision of medical services to First Nations because that affected my family directly, but I learned a lot about other marginalized communities – the poor, folks with mental illnesses, the homeless to name a few. What I realized is that the majority of Canadians were not in need of my services; it was the minority of Canadians who needed my services the most and so I have chosen to practice in rural areas and on First Nations territories.
Do you have any advice for students in the NMP?
I hope that all graduates from the NMP remember to give back by making sure they in some way provide services to rural, remote and/or First Nations communities. Even if you become a specialist with a very specific focus, find a way to provide your clinical services to these communities – do monthly clinics, make yourself accessible to rural doctors via e-consult services. If you are considering being a family physician, please consider practicing in under serviced areas. Yes it can be scary in a small community, but I guarantee you people will come and help without question and you will learn so much and gain such confidence you will wonder why you were so scared that first shift.
Who is the most influential person of your life so far?
That is easy – my mother, Shirley Elizabeth MacDonald nee Dominic. A survivor of the residential school system, she was a strong, dynamic, quiet person who always told me that the way forward for our communities was through education. Unfortunately, she passed away before I even considered applying to medical school. Now I am a practicing physician and I am serving the communities of the Manitoulin Island where she was born and raised before she was taken away. I am very proud of her, she endured a lot and as I walk this land I feel very connected to her.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
I do locums for an organization on the Manitoulin Island in Ontario called Noojmowin Teg which provides medical coverage (NPs, RPNs and MDs) to the various First Nations communities on the island. With the outbreak of the pandemic. I have returned to the island to provide virtual and in person primary care. So far we have not had any positive cases in any of our First Nations communities here on the island. My day to day practice of medicine has certainly changed in ways that really are quite astounding, but aren’t we lucky that we have relatively wide spread access to technology.
On a personal note, I have a dear friend who’s whole family has been engulfed by the pandemic. Three out of her five immediate family members experienced mild symptoms and tested positive while her mother has been severely affected. She was intubated for close to two months and after three months of hospitalization she has recovered enough to return home. The family was only able to visit her twice in person, all other contact was via FaceTime or Zoom. It was excruciating to see this family as they huddled around their computers in their separate homes to see their mom in the ICU. Their emotional suffering has reminded me that my responsibility as a physician is not confined to the physical health of the patient but must include their spiritual and social well-being and extend to their circle of family and friends.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or what are you most proud of?
Becoming a physician, still blows my mind.
Name one thing on your bucket list.
Prior to COVID-19, I alternated locums with travel both domestic and international. Most of bucket list would consist of going places I have not gone yet. I would really like to take a year, maybe two, and just travel around the world – start heading West and just keep going until I ended up back where I started. Not sure how likely that will be. In the meantime, I really hope I can get my puppy to come when I call her – it’s a good thing she is a cutie.