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Inspired by compassion

Faculty of Medicine student follows in the footsteps of medical pioneer

Student Life

By Michelle Osmond

Maggie O’Dea admires how Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw “led by example, stood with conviction and practised with compassion.”

Dr. Bagshaw was the founder of Canada’s first abortion clinic and founder of the Canadian Federation of Medical Women. In 1976, at the age of 95 and still with a practice of 50 patients, Dr. Bagshaw decided it was time to retire. She was the oldest practising physician in Canada.

Drawing inspiration

Ms. O’Dea, a second-year doctor of medicine (MD) student, is Memorial’s latest Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) recipient. Recipients of the award submit a 1,000-word essay describing why they should be considered for the award and which CMHF laureate inspires them most.

“She was a trailblazer in the recognition of reproductive choice as a fundamental right.” — Maggie O’Dea

Ms. O’Dea chose to write about 2007 laureate Dr. Bagshaw. She entered Toronto Women’s Medical College in 1901, a time when women were not accepted in the medical field.

“She pioneered patient-centred care of marginalized populations, ignoring social, professional and legal norms to care for her patients,” Ms. O’Dea said.

“She was a trailblazer in the recognition of reproductive choice as a fundamental right. Her uncompromising stance on respect for bodily autonomy at a time when doing so was socially and professionally contentious, as well as illegal, is nothing short of courageous.”

Advocating for vulnerable populations

That inspiration has led Ms. O’Dea to become a leader in advocacy herself in campaigns that have resulted in transformed government policies and improved health care for vulnerable populations.

Last year, the Witless Bay native co-designed a campaign against inequitable access to abortion, which resulted in universal access to Mifegymiso.

“When I found out about the award, all I wanted to do was reach out to these people to thank them.” — Maggie O’Dea

This year, Ms. O’Dea led a team to eliminate discriminatory age restrictions on the Insulin Pump Program. Both campaigns generated national media coverage and incited similar campaigns across Canada.

Ms. O’Dea completed a bachelor of science (honours) in life sciences at Queen’s University and a master’s in business administration at Memorial as a fellow of the School of Graduate Studies, where she learned to analyze physiological boundaries of health using political-social-economic frameworks.

Since starting medical school, she has chaired professional working groups on physician engagement/retention and participatedin national stakeholder sessions on Pharmacare.

The Class of 2021 student says applying for the CMHF award required a lot of introspection.

“I kept reflecting on how fortunate I have been to have had such incredible colleagues and mentors who have challenged me and inspired me. In some ways, I think I am merely a reflection of all these different people in my life. And when I found out about the award, all I wanted to do was reach out to these people to thank them and tell them how much they have meant to me.”

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame partners with donors, MD Financial Management and Canada’s medical schools to recognize young leaders who exemplify qualities of CMHF laureates: perseverance, collaboration and an entrepreneurial spirit. Each recipient receives a cash prize of $5,000 and a travel subsidy to attend the 2020 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.


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