University of Calgary

Globetrotting inspires medical student to make a difference

UToday HomeMay 8, 2013

Lisa Monforton

Rita WattersonRita Watterson is among the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine graduating students whose achievements will be recognized during convocation ceremonies on Thursday, May 9, at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium. Photo by Riley BrandtUndecided on her career goal, Rita Watterson decided to spend a couple of years globetrotting after completing her undergraduate degree.

What she witnessed in those travels would come to shape her academic path. Her journey reaches a landmark on Thursday, May 9, when she graduates from the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine and begins a residency in psychiatry.

Traveling to Latin America and then Changwon, South Korea – where she taught English – allowed her glimpses into the daily lives of ordinary people.

“It was shocking how factors as simple as access to water and good nutrition shaped health outcomes,” says Watterson.

Seeing examples of gender inequities also motivated her to write a chapter in Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life, to be published in August by Edward Elgar Publishing. The chapter is titled, A Gender-Based Consideration of Diseases of Occupation: Narratives of Ultra-Poor Bangladeshi Women Heads of Household.

That contribution earned the prestigious inclusion in the Top 30 Under 30 by the Alberta Council for Global Co-operation in 2012, which recognizes persons who work in global health.

Watterson is also the vice-president of Global Health at the University of Calgary. In that role, she helped establish the Global Health Concentration, says Jennifer Hatfield, associate dean (global health and international partnerships), Faculty of Medicine. The program provides leadership and funding for medical students seeking international experiences.

“She was one of the inspirations behind building the Global Health Concentration,” says Hatfield.

Watterson’s work included developing the guidelines, curriculum and ethical training for medical students.

Watterson’s “quiet intention” helped her achieve success, says Hatfield. “She navigates challenging power structures to get things done. She is incredibly effective and gets the best out of people.”

Watterson also enjoyed working locally, as she did during her clerkship, working with doctors at several Calgary clinics in her third year. She said that experience reminded her that Canada has its own problems providing health care to underserved populations.

But dealing with patients one-on-one was most rewarding. “In medicine, you are given the privilege to be involved in the most intimate parts of people’s lives. As cliché as it sounds, it is the days when you have worked hard, advocated for patients . . . that you remember.”

Lynn McIntyre, Watterson’s research supervisor, says Watterson is the “complete package” when it comes to working in medicine.

“She has an exquisite background, with her training in public health. She incorporated all of her understanding of public health into medicine, which enriched her understanding,” says the professor and CIHR Chair in Gender and Health in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine.

With those qualities, McIntyre adds, she’s poised for a purposeful career. “She’s going to be a great contributor not only to medicine and psychiatry but also society at large.”


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