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Equity advocate

Medical student honoured by national organization for work supporting vulnerable populations

By Kelly Foss

A Memorial University medical student is the 2023 recipient of the MD Financial Management Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award for Medical Students.

Lauren Law is a third-year student in the Doctor of Medicine Program in the Faculty of Medicine.

As stated by the organization, the award recognizes individuals who demonstrate qualities such as perseverance, collaboration and entrepreneurial spirit and show outstanding potential as future leaders and innovators of health care in Canada.

Hard work, perserverance and dedication

Born and raised in East Vancouver in a single-parent household, Ms. Law says her mother and other women in her life were strong female role models who taught her the essence of hard work, perseverance and determination.

“My grandparents passed away when my mom was young,” she said. “She was left to support her younger brothers, one of whom had a developmental delay. Once I was born, we lived together as a four-person household, crammed into two-bedroom basement suites. We moved around a lot and often faced housing and food insecurity.”

“I try not to hold onto the past, because there is so much to look forward to,” she continued, “but those experiences shaped who I am, how I practise medicine today and the communities I’m interested in supporting, which are marginalized and vulnerable populations.”

Making an impact

Ms. Law devoted herself to succeeding academically as a means to overcome her challenging living circumstances.

“I’m the first in my family to go to university, let alone get an MD, so I studied very hard to achieve scholarships and get a higher education.”

She first obtained a bachelor of science degree in geography with a concentration in coastal studies from the University of Victoria.

She then obtained a master’s degree in biological sciences at the University of Alberta, studying deep sea glass sponge reefs.

“At the time I was interested in global coastal communities and the challenges they were facing in terms of their fishing livelihood and the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on fish stocks and the destruction of coral reefs,” said Ms. Law. “The Indigenous communities on the coast of British Columbia have cultural and livelihood ties to salmon, so I was also interested in salmon restoration. There’s a lot of good work being done in this area, but it wasn’t the kind of impact I wanted to make.”

Volunteering with a harm reduction program in Vancouver allowed her to work closely with people affected by drug addiction and homelessness.

It also got her thinking of a career in medicine.

“My goal has always been to reduce health disparities among marginalized and vulnerable populations.” — Lauren Law

Since coming to Memorial University, Ms. Law has become a leader in her community, volunteering with Gateway Health.

The clinic serves new refugees to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“My goal has always been to reduce health disparities among marginalized and vulnerable populations,” she said. “My efforts involve fostering allyship with those groups, trying to create health systems that are more culturally competent, trauma-informed and inclusive.”

‘An honour and a privilege’

She has also advocated on behalf of improved language interpretation services in the province and helped organize a three-week language learning series for medical students highlighting the main Indigenous languages in the province.

A smiling, dark-haired yellow woman in a white shirt and jacket
Lauren Law says the award will give her the inspiration and energy to keep fighting for things she is passionate about.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“It was the first of its kind, that we’re aware of, at a medical school and we got to build a relationship with the university’s Indigenous Student Resource Centre as we worked together to organize the series,” said Ms. Law. “The goal was to provide an opportunity for medical students to learn basic phrases, such as greetings and body parts, to create more inclusive health spaces when working in Indigenous communities.”

Other initiatives, such as co-founding the planetary health interest group at Memorial, which highlights the intersection between the health of the planet and human health, combine her environmental science and medical backgrounds.

She is also a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment regional committee. It promotes improvements to medical curricula on education related to environmental and human health.

Ms. Law says it is “very humbling” as well as an honour and a privilege to receive the award.

“But it doesn’t mean the work stops. There’s a lot of pressure to constantly perform, which can be challenging as you move through your medical career. Awards like this continue to provide inspiration and energy to keep fighting for things I’m passionate about.”

Inspired by courage

She will receive the award, which includes a cash prize, in April at the 2024 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Vancouver, B.C.

As part of her award application, Ms. Law wrote about which Canadian Medical Hall of Fame laureate inspired her the most.

She chose 2016 laureate Dr. May Cohen.

“Dr. Cohen was one of few women attending medical school (in the ’50s) and graduated at the top of her class,” said Ms. Law. “She also had humble beginnings and faced health inequities as a child. That resonated with me in terms of my upbringing. It was really inspiring, because when you are from a low socio-economic household there are a lot of barriers.

Dr. Cohen also helped initiate some of the first women’s health clinics and women’s health curricula at medical schools across the province of Ontario, Ms. Law said.

“It took a lot of courage and innovation to do that.”


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