By Chonglu Huang
MD 2020 graduate Yipeng Ge first became interested in a career in medicine after learning about health inequities affecting Indigenous communities within and near Hamilton, Ontario.
“A particularly impactful experience ... was working with Indigenous scholars and mentors from Six Nations of the Grand River and Hamilton during my undergrad and recognizing the systemic racial, social and health inequalities that are still prevalent today,” said Dr. Ge, who completed a Bachelor of Health Sciences with a specialization in global health from McMaster University.
“This made me want to learn more about the social determinants of health and be the best ally I could be to improve the health care system.”
A newly minted graduate of the University of Ottawa MD class of 2020, Dr. Ge (MD 2020) will soon begin a five-year residency program in public health and preventative medicine including family medicine at uOttawa and its affiliated hospitals and public health agencies.
The path to public health
His experiences and training have prepared him well to enter this complex, interdisciplinary field that is rapidly adapting to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Born in Wuhan, China, Dr. Ge immigrated to Canada with his family as a young child.
“I want to acknowledge that I am coming from a place of privilege. I have had the opportunity to grow up and study in Canada because of the decisions and sacrifices my parents made,” he said.
After finishing his undergraduate degree in 2016, he spent two months in Geneva interning at the World Health Organization’s Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. This experience solidified his passion for public and global health, where a physician can take on the role of both care provider and advocate for health equity and social justice.
He was in his final year of medical school when the first known cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, a city where he still has close relatives. After the quarantine began there in early January, he heard first-hand experiences from family members about the physical and psychological tolls of life under lockdown.
When the pandemic hit Canada in March 2020, Dr. Ge and his fellow student, Tavis Hayes, offered to work for the Public Health Medicine Unit of Ottawa Public Health, the team responsible for case and outbreak management and technical public health guidance.
He said he's grateful for the experience of volunteering with the dedicated nurses, doctors, health inspectors, case managers and contact tracing teams, working around the clock to promote and protect the health of the Ottawa community.
Giving back to the community
Dr. Ge has always honoured his privilege by giving back to the community through fundraisers such as “Shave For a Cure,” a summer exchange program in emergency medicine at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and volunteering to apprentice under CHEO’s therapeutic clown, Mollypenny (embodied by nurse Ruth Cull) with whom he learned to work with young patients as far away as from Iqaluit, Nuvanut.
“With Mollypenny at CHEO, I learned about connecting through the humanity aspect of medicine; about play and humility,” says Ge. “As medical professionals we should take our work seriously, but we don’t have to take ourselves seriously. What matters most at the end of the day are the connections we build and simple acts of kindness.”
This spring, Dr. Ge was selected as the official Canadian youth delegate to the 73rd World Health Assembly at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, which has since taken place virtually on May 18. It was the culmination of a dream come true.
“I find myself in a privileged space of intersectional identities and roles that have provided me with insight and reflection on many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic response—from a personal lens, a clinical lens, a local public health lens, and from a global health diplomacy lens,” Dr. Ge wrote on his professional blog that chronicled his journey through medical school.
“And among this, I continue to navigate how best to take care of myself (physically, psychologically, spiritually) and manage as a medical student graduate transitioning into residency training and preparing for clinical work in July 2020.”