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Evolution of practice

MD-PhD spring graduate integrating genetics and family medicine

special feature: Class of 2020

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Michelle Osmond

Daniel Evans is one of only three people to complete the MD-PhD program in the Faculty of Medicine.

For the spring graduate, this means he can be a physician and a scientist, something he always knew would be his path.

He says he always knew he wanted to help people. His grandmother, Mary Evans, was one of the biggest influences on his life and his decision to pursue medicine.

“She had Parkinson’s disease and watching her grow old, she taught me a lot about having grace in the face of adversity,” said Mr. Evans, who comes from a family of six. “I think she would have been proud of me this year.”

Well schooled

Mr. Evans completed a bachelor of science (hons.) degree at Memorial in 2012 before starting the graduate program in human genetics at the Faculty of Medicine.

The same year he wrote his PhD comprehensive exam, Mr. Evans was accepted into the doctor of medicine (MD) program and, later, the joint MD-PhD program.

He completed both simultaneously, winning several awards in both and publishing some significant research while still in medical school.

Passion for genetics

“Genetics is a great field because the technology is always advancing and integrating new discoveries with patient care is something I find rewarding,” he said.

When he started his graduate work, geneticists were just gaining access to a new technology called next-generation DNA sequencing.

Mr. Evans’ PhD research focused on working with families from Newfoundland and Labrador who have rare disorders with mutations that could not be discovered with conventional DNA sequencing, but could by using the new method of whole exome sequencing.

His research led to the successful discovery of two new mutations, one in a disease called retinitis pigmentosa and the other in Weill-Marchesani syndrome.

He also worked with Dr. Michael Woods on the genetics of hereditary colorectal cancer in the province.

Genetics = Evolution and ancestral heritage

The St. John’s native  completed clerkship rotations in rural N.L., including family medicine in Twillingate, internal medicine in Gander and general surgery in St. Anthony.

“There are some really great mentors who teach in these communities,” he said. “I think training in smaller, more close-knit, health-care teams has taught me the value of collaboration and professionalism. I think it influences you to think more holistically about health care, be broader in your learning and it encourages you to go the extra mile for your patients.”

“The story of genetics is something that impacts everyone.” — Daniel Evans

It was some of those families he met who participated in Evans’ genetics research, for which he’s grateful.

“For me, it’s about listening to people’s stories, their family histories and their personal struggles,” he said. “The story of genetics is something that impacts everyone, from our eye colour, our medical history, even the way our bodies metabolize certain medications. It explains evolution and our ancestral heritage and is something that links us all together.”

Double celebration

Mr. Evans defended his PhD thesis during his clinical rotation in internal medicine this spring and passed with distinction. On the medical school side, he’ll be starting as a family medicine resident in Victoria, B.C., in July.

He wants to use his research experience to help bring new discoveries into medical practice.

“I like the idea of being a family doctor with genetics training specifically because I think it’s an important skill set for any physician to have. I’m hoping to join a small group of family doctors who are working to bring modern genetics into routine clinical practice.”

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