Motivated by a good cause

Stefanie Wilson – April 2, 2018

Rick Mercer speaks to President Richard Florizone. (Dalplex photos: Danny Abriel)

A bitter nor’easter was blowing in when Medical Sciences student Cameron Penny went out to meet comedian Rick Mercer on the quad last month.

Rick Mercer interviews Cameron Penny of Dal's Golden Key Society during his visit to campus. (Provided photos)

“It was very cold,” he recalls. “But we met up as a group, with other students, and did some running around and filming for the show. It was fun.”

Spreading the Net

Rick Mercer was on campus as part of the Spread the Net Challenge. Each year since 2007, the Rick Mercer Report films an episode of the show at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools who raise the most for bed nets to fight the spread of malaria.

Read more: Highlights from Rick Mercer's Dal visit and watch the full episode online

This year, Dalhousie raised the most among post-secondary schools thanks to a campaign run by Dal’s chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society. Cameron directed the project team.

“I was inspired to help out with the Spread the Net Challenge from a trip to Honduras when I didn't bring a mosquito net,” Cameron explains. “I was terrified every night when I went to sleep and would coat myself with DEET and wrap myself up in my sheets and just hope I didn’t get bit. It made me realize how privileged I was to even have that mindset.”

Campus efforts this year raised enough to send malaria-prevention nets to about 50 families in Liberia and Rwanda through Plan Canada. The Dalhousie episode of the Rick Mercer Report is scheduled to air Tuesday, April 3 on CBC — Mercer’s second-to-last episode before he signs off from the Report for good.

Caring society

Cameron’s membership with Dal’s chapter of Golden Key enables him to get involved with a variety of community events. Focused on academics, leadership and service, the society invites students who are in the top 15 per cent of their program to become members.

This year, in addition to Spread the Net, Cameron also directed the chapter’s Movember project. As a trained speaker through, a Canadian charity that promotes mental health awareness, Cameron and another speaker spoke about the particular stigmas that men face when it comes to their mental wellbeing. They also collected warm clothing donations for Metro Turning Point.

“Our mental health and physical health are so intertwined that we didn't want to only promote one aspect.” he explains.

Going beyond

In addition to his Golden Key initiatives, Cameron is involved with the Dalhousie Global Brigades

“During a medical brigade, we travel to remote communities to shadow doctors, provide triage and help distribute medication,” he explains. “The second half of the brigade is focused on public health initiatives to help improve living conditions.”

Cameron is especially impressed by the way Global Brigades tracks their results and adjusts their approach based on what they find. “They cater the public health projects based on the preventable diseases that are being treated in clinic,” he explains. “And then, once it's implemented, they continue to track the incidence of disease in the community. If they don't see the decline they're looking for, they can try something else and see if it's more effective.”

It was on one of the brigade trips to Honduras when Cameron forgot his bed net. “I was here worrying about bug bites, which was a very eye-opening experience,” he recalls. “The Hondurans we were seeing in clinic had very different priorities but because I came from a first-world nation, it was at the top of my list. It was incredible to see that disparity between individuals and how we prioritize in our everyday lives.”

Researching options

With his obvious interest in health care, it’s not surprising that Cameron choose Dal because of the Medical Sciences program, the only program of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

He says the best part of the program so far is getting to work on a directed research project

“I'm working in the lab of Dr. Rafuse in the Department of Medical Neuroscience looking at a drug compound that increases motor neuron survival and then tweaking the application of the drug to maximize the survival of motor neurons for potential transplant.” The lab hopes to use the findings to develop treatment strategies for patients with neurological disorders.

Though he’s thought about the possibility of working as a physician for Global Brigades or Doctors Without Borders, Cameron is quick to point out that there are plenty of rewarding careers available to Medical Sciences graduates in addition to Medicine. “It’s important to recognize that the title a person bears is not an indication or a limitation of the impact they can make on their community”

He’s also quite interested in keeping up with his research skills. As he sees it, “being a physician allows you to help people in your immediate vicinity but research allows you to change the lives of so many more.”

Read more: Highlights from Rick Mercer's Dal visit and watch the full episode online


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