May 7, 2015

Medicine grad dedicated to improving access to care for the vulnerable

Braden O’Neill, Rhodes Scholar, wants to make online health searches more reliable

Author

Leigh Hurst

Braden O’Neill, 2015 Cumming School of Medicine graduate and Rhodes Scholar, shows off his team hockey jersey on one of his first days at Oxford. After graduation, O'Neill will be off to the University of Toronto to commence his Family Medicine residency.

Braden O’Neill, 2015 Cumming School of Medicine graduate and Rhodes Scholar.

Braden O'Neill

Braden O’Neill is packing his bags again. A 2015 graduate of the Cumming School of Medicine and a Rhodes Scholar, O’Neill has just completed his tenure at Oxford. Once he graduates with his medical degree on May 7, he will be off to the University of Toronto to commence his family medicine residency.  

“I will be doing a large portion of my training in North York — a community that is home to some of Canada’s richest and poorest citizens,” says O’Neill.

Working with marginalized populations is nothing new to O’Neill. In fact, the depth of his experience in this area played an important role in his nomination for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Between working for a needle exchange program in Edmonton, co-founding the medical school’s student-run clinic, serving as a Canadian Federation of Medical Students Global Health Advocate, and sitting on the medical school’s Social Accountability Committee, O’Neill’s dedication to under-served populations has been sustained and effectual.

A trailblazer within the faculty

“Braden is a mature young man with a strong social conscience. The leadership he showed in winning a Rhodes Scholarship — the first for our medical school in some years — increased our commitment to pursue this prestigious award. The result has been three more Rhodes in the next three years,” said former dean, Dr. Tom Feasby.

Putting his previous experience to work and his education to the test, O’Neill is keenly aware that improving access to health care will require moving beyond homogeneous solutions to finding unique approaches based on the specific needs of diverse populations.

“In North York, there are a significant number of refugee, immigrant and homeless populations with different health issues that require physicians and other health professionals to have a broad understating of the cultural barriers to the access to care,” said O’Neill. “These unique approaches will involve a combination of inpatient work as well as community-based clinics.”

Oxford studies provided perspective

O’Neill’s studies at Oxford exposed him to different ways of approaching problems. This broadened his perspective and his understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized and vulnerable populations through study of how such issues are addressed around the world.

“The best thing about Oxford is that it provides an environment that encourages you to ask whatever questions you want and then provides you with the resources to pursue them. The Rhodes Scholarship is often described as the ‘gift of time.’ In my case, I was given the opportunity to think about the problems facing health care around the world and gained exposure to a variety of different approaches and solutions.”

Studying how people use the Internet to access health information

And clearly, O’Neill made great use of the gift of time and the environment at Oxford. Over three years, he studied how people use the Internet to access health information and the effect the information they acquire has on them.

“Use of the Internet for gathering information is ubiquitous. My preliminary work focused on primary health-care information on the Internet and how to make online self-care recourses more relevant and helpful.

“There is a lot of good stuff on the Internet. Health care has not fully engaged with this platform and, as a result, it often leaves patients in a boat without a sail,” O’Neill says. “Part of our job should be to help people access relevant health information.”

Once established in North York, O’Neill will continue to work on the research that he started in Oxford and will commence work on a project related to primary care reform. “There are big health-care questions that need to be answered in the next few decades — namely, how to do more with less? National primary care reform will be essential to ensure health care is sustainable in the future,” O’Neill says.

It is clear from O’Neill’s accomplishments to date, that he is on a path to contribute to transforming health care for Canadians — either in their local clinics, at their computers at home, or through influencing health policy. All this has been made possible by his keen desire to help but also through having received the ‘gift of time’ as a Rhodes Scholar.