Leading the Way in Community Health

Fall 2010

Dave Williams

It all began with a group of McGill medical students looking for a way to further connect their education to the Montreal health community. They understood that as physicians they would have an essential responsibility not only to their patients, but also to the communities in which they lived. The student initiative has blossomed into the McGill Community Health Alliance Project (CHAP), a year-long, three-phase program that places first-year students with partnering health-related community organizations.

The aim of the program is to expose medical students at the outset of their career to the social, environmental, economic and historical determinants of the health of populations in Montreal. The students also learn about the importance and complexity of primary care in a community setting, and the relevance of community health in a national and international healthcare context.

This year, for the first time since the program began, participating students who exhibit leadership and excellence are receiving the new CHAP Award. “It’s very important to recognize physician skills and leadership,” says McGill alumnus and former astronaut Dave Williams, BSc’76, MDCM’83, MSc’83, DSc’07, who is sponsoring the CHAP Award. Williams is passionate about the importance of leadership skills in health care. “I think it’s critical,” he says. “Citizens in the community look to healthcare leaders for guidance and advice.”

CHAP Award winners for 2010 are MDCM students Jennifer Hulme and Zoë Thomas. In Focus had a chance to catch up with Zoë mere days before she resumed her full-time medical studies. Her year in the CHAP program was spent at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal where she oversaw weekly arts and crafts workshops. With an enthusiasm that is contagious, she describes her work with the women, making masks, collages, quilts, Hallowe’en costumes, gingerbread cookies and Christmas decorations. Surprisingly, for that entire year, none of the women at the shelter knew she was a medical student.

“In the shelter, people just are,” says Zoë. “The essence is not your achievement.”

Zoë enjoyed her CHAP experience at the shelter so much that she stayed on after the end of the program for another year, becoming a part-time employee, taking on major new responsibilities and getting to know the clientele even better. “I feel I really gained concrete skills in communication and trust building,” she says. “That is going to be so wonderful for me as a future doctor.”

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