Why did you choose your career? What made you specialize in this area of healthcare? These are questions regularly asked of our alumni in the Faculty of Medicine. And, in each case, there are interesting answers. Theresa McElroy, BSc Occupational Therapy ’98, has answers to these that are not only interesting but inspiring.
Theresa’s interest in Occupational Therapy first began when she attended a local rehabilitation centre with her father who was speaking about his experiences flying aircraft as a pilot with paraplegia. After graduation, Theresa spent several years working as an Occupational Therapist in pediatrics across acute care, rehabilitation and community care. She also spent time volunteering overseas with various organizations that focused their work on children with impairments; this is where Theresa discovered her passion for International Health. She went on to complete her Masters in International Health at Curtin University in Western Australia and spent the next 6 years working in the field. Theresa reports having had the privilege of conducting research with a number of child health programs based in Uganda including: ‘The Uganda Sustainable Clubfoot Care Project’, which provides early detection and treatment of clubfoot, ‘Healthy Child Uganda’ that works through community resource people to promote child health practices and prevent morbidity and mortality through early recognition of health ‘danger’ signs. From 2006-2008 she worked as Program Manager at the Centre for International Child Health at BC Children’s Hospital.
Theresa is pleased that UBC has a growing focus and expertise in global health and this is one of the reasons why she decided to return to UBC to complete her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her doctoral work has been on researching early childhood health & development during post-conflict transition in northern Uganda, and working to ensure the children there can have every opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Theresa’s research was used to plan and implement six early childcare initiatives in return villages with international organizations, local government and community based organizations.
Being in the field and working directly with people is the most rewarding aspect of her job. Getting to know the families and the challenges they face daily are what inspire her to continue her work. As Theresa was reflecting on her work over the years she said “the things that inspire me are not the big moments but the small moments, the connection with women who work so hard every day to make a better life for their kids. These women inspire me to be grateful for all I have and to work for things that are important to me and to them”.
When asked what her greatest achievement is thus far, Theresa couldn’t pick out a moment, instead stating that everything is a step in a journey and no one experience outshines the other. Theresa hopes to continue to focus on children’s health in the context of their environment through a post-doctoral position.
For those who are doing work in Uganda or other global outreach projects and would like to connect with Theresa to get information or share ideas on best practices and on-the-ground resources, please contact us at 604 875 4111 ext. 62031 or email@example.com and we will put you in touch.
Written by Marisa Iuvancigh