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People of DFM: Dr. Elena Schroeder

For Dr. Elena Schroeder, being a doctor wasn’t a lifelong dream.

“I hadn’t even considered medicine until very late in my undergraduate degree” says Schroeder, who is now a second year family medicine resident at McMaster University.

As a kinesiology student at Queen’s University, Schroeder took advantage of a global health opportunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was an experience that changed the course of her life and career. Working as a physiotherapy assistant with a small medical team in the DRC, she saw the impact doctors have on not only physical and mental health, but also the wider systemic issues that impact health and happiness.

“It was incredible what they accomplished with the limited resources available to them”, says Schroeder in speaking about her doctor colleagues at the time. “They trained the local population and actually helped establish something that was very sustainable to help the community.”

After completing medical school, Schroeder was looking for a family medicine residency program that allowed her to make an impact like she had seen during her experience in the DRC. After interviewing with 11 residency programs, McMaster was the clear choice.

With the goal of working in lower resourced environments such as rural or international communities, Schroeder identified the qualities a residency program needed to help her succeed. Flexibility, supportive preceptors, impactful clinical experiences and a program administrative team that would advocate for her were key factors in her decision. Since coming to McMaster, she has experience all of those things and more.

Schroeder credits many aspects of the program for giving her the skills and experience to become a confident independent practitioner. From having a very supportive preceptor in Dr. Jason Profetto, to being given the opportunity to provide care in Peru, the diversity that McMaster offers has been crucial.

A large aspect of building resident confidence is designing a program that adapts and grows with them. For Schroeder, horizontal electives have been a perfect example of this program adaptability.

“When I’m on full-time family medicine, I can do half a day a week in a subject in which I need growth or that I am really interested in” she explains.

When she identified dermatology as an area of need, Schroeder was able to use her elective time to gain further training and experience. That adaptability during residency ties directly into her confidence and competence as a family doctor.

Although residency is two years in length, it was two weeks in Peru that particularly stand out for Schroeder. Peru is one of several important international partnerships developed by faculty members within the Department of Family Medicine. These partnerships allow students to gain direct global health experience, as well as create important global research relationships for our faculty members.

The annual global health experience in Lima, Peru originated as a medical student experience at Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine’s Niagara Regional Campus (NRC). It has since expanded to include family medicine residents. Dr Karl Stobbe, an associate clinical professor in family medicine and NRC’s regional assistant dean, was instrumental in developing the Peru experience.

Other family medicine faculty members, such as Dr. Keyna Bracken in summer 2016, travel to Peru with McMaster’s students and residents to provide mentorship and support.

“Global health opportunities are very important and meaningful to me” says Schroeder. “They allow residents to not only give back through our skills, but also learn from other cultures and communities.”

During the two weeks, Schroeder and her colleagues came face-to-face with a very different type of environment in which to apply the skills learned at McMaster. They entered a community with thousands of people living in poorly built shelters, with almost no access to clean water or health care.

Schroeder’s largest takeaway from this experience is one that has many applications to practicing medicine in Canada.

“You can’t just jump into a community and try to provide the best care as you define it” she says. “You need to first understand the people and community, then learn about the systems already in place and try to help people through those systems.”

Makeshift clinic outside Lima, Peru.
A school outside Lima, Peru became a makeshift clinic for McMaster medical students, family medicine residents, faculty and their Peruvian colleagues. Photo credit: Dr. Keyna Bracken.

Reflecting on the many experiences and opportunities made possible by McMaster, Schroeder is thankful for the choice she made two years ago.

“Because of McMaster’s flexibility, because of the support and opportunities they have provided to me and because of the people in the Department of Family Medicine, I will be the best family doctor that I can be.”

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