Racial biases have major impacts on the medical field, from inaccurate diagnostics to nonconsensual procedures—but always to the detriment of marginalized communities. Many medical professionals at McGill and in Montreal are working to change this, however: The Social Accountability and Community Engagement Office of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health highlighted four Black changemakers in health care during their event “Research, Advocacy, and Philanthropy in Health Equity” on Feb. 10.
Berson Augustin is a PhD student in epidemiology at McGill who has been working in community health care for many years. As a researcher at the Lady Davis Research Institute, he aimed to improve Hepatitis C virus screening through community outreach among migrants in Montreal.
But before then, Augustin got his start in medicine as a volunteer. After a chance meeting with a doctor at a free clinic in Florida, Augustin was encouraged to volunteer as a translator for Haitian immigrants seeking health care. From doctors to refugees in Canada, all the people Augustin has encountered during his life have profoundly shaped his passion for medicine.
“To be able to have moved on, little by little, because of these people that have been supporting me is the reason that I think doing this kind of work and thinking about medicine is important,” Augustin said.
Victoire Kpadé’s experience in medicine, too, was deeply shaped by her peers. A current medical student at McGill, Kpadé started seriously looking into medical programs after an inspiring conversation she had with her friend Lashanda Skerritt, another speaker who had recently been accepted in a similar program.
Kpadé’s work centres around giving back to the community. One of her past projects was developing clinical guidelines for medical professionals working with unhoused individuals.
“At this point, I feel like I have a lot of different pieces of research,” Kpadé said. “Now I want to see how to translate that research into sustainable interventions that will have a long standing impact to improve the access of care and particularly for members of marginalized communities.”
As a MDCM and PhD student studying family medicine, Skerritt researches the reproductive health-care needs of women living with HIV, who are often at the intersection of many different forms of oppression.
An essential concept that Skerritt uses to guide her work is Two-Eyed Seeing, known as Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw, which was introduced to her by Indigenous professionals she works with. Two-Eyed Seeing seeks to integrate the strengths of both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing. Skerritt’s work focusses on bringing together traditional epidemiological approaches with community knowledge.
“Working with communities requires us to change the way that we view [those] that might be experiencing barriers and challenges,” Skerritt said. “There are a lot of ways in which community organizations, Black community groups, do incredible work to support our community that’s outside of the health-care system, outside of academia.”
Graduated from McGill Medicine in 2012, Nicolas Cadet is the first opthalmologist of African descent specializing in oculoplastic surgery in Canada. Encouraged by his parents to give back, he is intent on using his role in health care to support his community.
Cadet is an advocate for the importance of community and mentorship for Black medical students, and part of his current work includes establishing a bursary to support them. Establishing a sense of community trust, he said, is crucial in delivering effective health care to marginalized communities, highlighting the importance of health care built by and for Black people.
“My dream is to see how we can all come together as physicians from Black communities to actually build something for our communities,” Cadet said. “I think that the change should come from us, so let’s make that change happen.”