Ontario Medical Student of October

The summer before medical school is a perfect time to relax – unless you’re Erica McKenzie, Queen’s Medicine class of 2018, whose whirlwind summer took her from Harvard to the Himalayas. While many of us spent the summer travelling and chilling out, Erica travelled the world and completed a research internship in global neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Erica has brought her infectious enthusiasm for global and community health to Queen’s, demonstrating to her classmates that it’s never too early for medical students to get involved and make a difference for the betterment of healthcare worldwide.

At the Mass General, Erica worked with Farrah Mateen, MD, PhD, a Canadian neurologist and a rising star in the field of global health. Dr. Mateen’s research is focused on improving neurological care in resource-limited settings by identifying needs and bringing interventions to patients wherever possible – a mission statement Erica took to heart.

Erica spent late July to early August in Bhutan, a remote Himalayan county that has no practicing neurologists, as part of the Bhutan Epilepsy Project. The project, supported by Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, is an initiative that is testing a mobile, smartphone-based electroencephalography (EEG) device for the diagnosis of epilepsy. The device has the potential to be an elegant solution to a complicated problem – it is inexpensive, portable, easy to use, and can quickly send EEG data to experts on the other side of the world. In Bhutan, Erica collaborated with a dedicated team that included Bhutan’s only psychiatrist (who had been responsible for most of the county’s epilepsy caseload), talented local research coordinators, software experts from Denmark, an EEG technician, a high school student, and Dr. Mateen.

Patients came to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital in Thimphu from the farthest provinces of Bhutan, many travelling over a day to enroll in the study. The hallways crowded with eager participants, the group worked tirelessly to meet the demand. On the ground, Erica was able to play an instrumental role in the project, performing the gold standard type of EEG you’d get in a Canadian hospital. Over the course of two weeks, the team enrolled over one hundred patients, recorded dozens of hours of brainwaves, and collected over a thousand pages of clinical data.

Two weeks after flying from Bhutan to Boston, Erica began orientation at Queen’s Medicine. She has shared her passion for global health with her peers, sparking interest, encouraging engagement with global health issues, and inspiring others to get involved. Erica was elected as a Global and Community Health Liaison, and plans to use her role on the Queen’s medical student council and with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students to advocate for the needs of underserved populations here in Kingston and across the world.  She hopes to facilitate the engagement of her fellow medical students at the local and global levels.

Between prepping for prosection and practicing for clinical skills, Erica has continued to dedicate her energies to global neurology research. In addition to her continued work on the Bhutan Epilepsy Project, she is also contributing to projects on medical schools in fragile and post-conflict states.  Moreover, she is studying the neuropsychiatric care of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, and access and affordability of neurodiagnostic technology. In November, Erica will be presenting her research on medical schools in fragile states at the Canadian Conference for Global Health in Ottawa.

I am sure that Erica’s journey this summer is just the beginning of an excellent career in medicine and global health. Her efforts are multiplied by the enthusiasm she has catalyzed in her classmates. When you talk to Erica you get the sense that each of us can make a difference, and that all together, maybe we can change the world. 

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