A medical student has her voice heard on Parliament Hill
As an undergraduate student, Caberry Yu did not think of politics as something that she’d ever be interested in. But now, as a second-year student in Queen’s School of Medicine, she finds herself growing into a role as an advocate for seniors care in Canada. With the organization Daughters of the Vote, she was selected to represent Kingston and the Islands in Ottawa, during which she delivered a speech to the Senate about the shortcomings in care for seniors in Canada.
Even though advocacy wasn’t at the front of her mind at the time, Caberry now sees that the seeds of her political interests were being planted when she was still an undergraduate. To gain first-hand experience with patients, she volunteered for a seniors rehabilitation program at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton. Through this experience, Caberry held in-depth conversations with many elderly patients and their caregivers. Caberry had many meaningful discussions at the hospital, but one patient said something that resonated particularly strongly with her: “most young people just don’t care about seniors.”
Looking back, Caberry sees this moment as a kind of call to action: it was one of the formative experiences that made her believe that younger people, especially in the health profession, need to become advocates for the care of senior citizens in Canada.
“Around that time,” she says, “I realized that the patient was right – most of us, including myself, didn’t know much about seniors care. We didn’t understand how ill-equipped our health system was to help seniors age with dignity.”
This past academic year, while she was in her second year of our undergraduate medical education program, Caberry became newly inspired to find her voice in seniors advocacy when she took part in the Day of Action organized by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS).
Each year, CFMS puts together a delegation to Ottawa that enables medical students from across Canada to speak to Members of Parliament and advocate for reform to the health system. This year’s Day of Action took up the cause of ageing and seniors care, and it gave Caberry the opportunity to meet with MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Kellie Leitch to discuss a national seniors strategy and pharmacare.
Caberry had such a positive experience on this trip in February, that she eagerly signed up to take a second organized trip to Ottawa in April, this time with Daughters of the Vote.
Daughters of the Vote selects young women between the ages of 18 and 23 from each federal riding in Canada to travel to Ottawa for the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians, learn about the workings of the federal government, and network.
Of the over 300 women who go on this trip, a few are given the opportunity to make a speech in the House of Commons or Senate about a topic that they are passionate about. Caberry was chosen for this honour, and she spoke in the Senate about the issue of Canadian seniors living in poverty.
Caberry’s goal was to make people understand that while the process of aging impacts us all, some of its complications are unevenly distributed. A disproportionate amount of seniors living in poverty are women. All too frequently, seniors in poverty cannot afford basic needs like food, housing, medications, and are more likely to age in nursing homes. She advocated for a National Seniors Strategy to coordinate best practices in seniors care and examine aging from multiple perspectives.
After giving her speech and making connections in Ottawa, Caberry feels like she has only just begun her work. She has already secured funding to put together an intergenerational exchange event in Kingston that will help seniors and university students connect with each other. Her goal is to help youth and seniors in the area understand each other better, and also to help humanize the issue of seniors care for young people.
“It’s really been a transformative year for me,” Caberry says. “When I think of successful politicians, I don’t see many individuals representative of my racial and gender identities. Having the opportunity to meet amazing women working in policy has inspired me to make advocacy a part of my career.”
Whenever I can, I take the opportunity to encourage students in the Faculty of Health Sciences to get involved in advocacy work. It is my sincere hope that Queen’s graduates will not only be outstanding practitioners but also leaders in our society, especially on issues related to the health system. I believe that our health professionals should aim to have their voices heard in Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill.
I am so proud of Caberry for establishing herself as an advocate at such an early stage in her career, and I have no doubt that she has a bright future ahead of her. I look forward to learning more about her leadership work in the coming years.
If you have any thoughts on the importance of advocacy work for health sciences students, please leave them in the comments below. Or better yet, please stop by the Macklem House: my door is always open.
Thank you to Andrew Willson for his assistance in preparing this blog.