Homecoming speaker highlights humanitarian projects

September 29, 2017 at 2:36 pm


From deadly hurricanes and earthquakes to devastating floods, landslides and wildfires, recent natural disasters have taken a shocking toll across the globe.

The human impact of these catastrophes highlights the growing need for health professionals to leave their comfort zones for crisis zones.

On Sept. 16 at the Dean’s Homecoming Breakfast on the Bannatyne campus, we heard an inspiring address from Dr. Doug Maguire, a member of the U of M Medicine Class of 1982.

Maguire, an anesthesiologist and associate professor of anesthesia in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, spoke with humility of taking part in more than a dozen international aid and outreach projects.

“I have volunteered with disaster missions to post-tsunami Sri Lanka, post-earthquake Haiti, and most recently post-earthquake Nepal,” Maguire told the audience of 140 alumni, representing grad years from 1957 to 2007.


The dedicated physician has also worked to improve health services in countries such as India, Nicaragua and Rwanda. He volunteers for capacity-building programs in developing countries. He was recently in Ethiopia for the sixth time, helping to train a local team in open-heart surgery.

Maguire offered several compelling reasons why health professionals should consider volunteering for humanitarian projects, at home or abroad.

First, he said, there is a dire need. In his medical field, he noted, only 3.5 per cent of more than 200 million surgeries performed worldwide each year are in low- and middle-income countries.

Second, as privileged Canadians, we have an ethical responsibility to help those in need. Third, it’s important to show suffering people that we care. Maguire recalled that on a disaster relief mission to Sri Lanka in 2005, “we questioned at times if we were really contributing.” Most victims in a tsunami are killed outright, he said, so there were few injuries to treat.

“But this population was traumatized and displaced,” he said. “Over and over, we heard how much it meant to these families that we cared enough to leave our comfortable homes and employment and travel a great distance to assist them.”

Maguire said relief work has taught him how fortunate he is and changed him as a person. He recalled lying in his dark tent in Nepal and feeling earthquake aftershocks. “You learn about yourself when you’re cold and a little bit hungry and away from family… and the Himalayan mountainside is shaking,” he said.

Maguire added that he has witnessed remarkable personal transformations in medical residents who have spent a month “teaching and caring” in an overseas community.

“We call it ‘giving back,’” he said. “But I call it ‘reaping rewards.’”

Alumni at the Homecoming Breakfast also heard inspiring words from Dorothy Yu, a fourth-year medical student whose volunteer work has included serving as a Global Health Advocate for the university.

There are many opportunities to participate in humanitarian projects through the university, or through organizations such as the Red Cross. I encourage you to donate your time and skills to a community in need, in Canada or abroad. You’ll be amazed at all you receive in return.

How has volunteering enriched your life as a health professional or student?