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Dr. Kevin Patterson called on doctors and medical students to meet the challenges of the coronavirus with bravery and conviction.

Face coronavirus with courage, UM alumnus urges medical peers

March 3, 2020 — 

The coronavirus is coming, and every doctor will have to summon personal courage to meet it, a University of Manitoba alumnus told an audience of medical students and physicians on Feb. 26.

“The coronavirus pandemic seems to be an inevitability,” said Dr. Kevin Patterson, a doctor, author and former soldier who has practised in settings as diverse as the Canadian Arctic and a military hospital in Afghanistan.

In China, where the outbreak started, a number of doctors have died from the coronavirus, Patterson noted. All physicians will have to reckon with their responsibility to serve patients and advocate for those most in need, he said.

“We’re looking at a medical event that’s going to unfold in the next several months,” Patterson said, predicting that the outbreak would become a career-defining event for many in the room.

“It will be the role of physicians to stand up for the minority populations who inevitably will be blamed and stigmatized.…

“The position of the most vulnerable among us will be more precarious than ever. It will be the job of physicians … to work for them and work with them, even in circumstances where our own health is imperiled, as it will be. This is our obligation.”

Patterson was the guest speaker at the 10th annual Teacher Recognition and Manitoba Medical Students’ Association (MMSA) Awards Dinner, held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. About 130 students, teachers, faculty and deans from the Max Rady College of Medicine were in attendance.

Patterson, who grew up in Selkirk, Man., completed his UM medical degree in 1989 and started his career as a military doctor. He began writing fiction while posted to Shilo, Man., and went on to earn a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

He has published five books, including a memoir about sailing a small boat across the North Pacific and a gritty war novel inspired by his stint in Kandahar, Afghanistan. His short story collection, Country of Cold, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2003.

A specialist in internal medicine, Patterson practises general and critical care medicine in Nanaimo, B.C. and on Salt Spring Island, B.C., where he lives.

For 25 years, he has also travelled to isolated communities in Nunavut as a physician with the UM northern medical unit, now called Ongomiizwin – Health Services.

He has seen many acts of individual heroism, he said, by nurses or family doctors who have courageously performed emergency procedures when there was no one else available to do so.

In the Inuit hamlet of Naujaat, he recalled, a nurse saved the life of a woman who was bleeding from an ectopic pregnancy by calling in community members to donate blood and then giving the woman transfusions.

Although much medical progress has been made by physicians working collectively as a “hive mind,” Patterson said, a life in medicine ultimately demands individual conviction. That’s what doctors will have to draw upon as they face the coming pandemic.

“We’re going to have to be strong,” he said, “because vulnerable people will require us to be strong.”

Earlier in the evening, the Teacher Recognition Awards were presented in 20 categories, voted on by medical students. The awards honoured teaching excellence in categories such as innovation, inspiration, mentorship, patient advocacy and small-group teaching.

Five awards were also presented to medical students who have distinguished themselves in the categories of citizenship, global health, community service, leadership and professionalism.

The list of teacher and student winners can be found on the MMSA website

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One comment on “Face coronavirus with courage, UM alumnus urges medical peers

  1. Sally Edwards

    Thank you Dr Patterson, for a caring, straight forward address to those commencing their careers. Being the future in medicine, to have listened to one who has achieved, and continues to achieve so much, would have been sobering yet inspiring. Salute.

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