Dr. Bob Woollard talks about his experiences working with the Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Nepal

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A rural Nepalese girl was interviewed several years ago by a newspaper about her aspirations. She told the reporter, “I want to be a doctor. I don’t know what they do. I’ve never seen one. But my parents said more of my friends would be alive if there were more doctors here.”

To the people of Nepal, health care is seen as instrumental for peace.

It is stories like this that inspire Dr. Bob Woollard, a professor of Family Practice at UBC’s Department of Medicine. Dr. Woollard recently talked about his experiences helping to establish the Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) in Nepal at the Vancouver Physician Staff Association’s Unique Lives in Medicine series.

“I started working on a feasibility study for the school in 2004; its focus was on rural and lower caste health,” says Dr. Woollard, who has a special interest in the social accountability of medical schools. “At the time there was a civil war going on in Nepal. The country’s sitting prime minister is the PAHS chancellor, that’s how important the Nepalese see this institution. A former prime minister, G.P. Koirala, once told me that he wanted to find a better way than the gun… to find peace through health. Another former prime minister, Prachandra, who led the guerilla faction during the civil war, believed that unless Nepal’s health disparities between its urban and rural populations were addressed, the country would be back at war within 15 years. Leaders on bothsides of the civil war ‎thus agreed on the importance of dealing with health inequities so peace and health in Nepal are intertwined.There was a rough post-revolutionary period, but that shared dream has gradually come true.”

Dr. Woollard continues to visit PAHS two or three times a year. PAHS has graduated two full classes of health professionals who provide for the needs of Nepal’s rural poor. A third cohort will complete training in July. VGH Emergency physician Dr. Corinne Hohl, who attended Dr. Woollard’s presentation, leaves next month to teach at PAHS for a year.

“PAHS now has a post-graduate program in emergency medicine, the first in the country,” adds Dr. Woollard. “A consortium of medical schools across Canada is part of the program and runs simulations there for disaster relief. When the 2015 earthquake hit, the hospital had the lowest amputation rate and the highest survival rate in the country thanks in part to our colleagues who have built that capacity. The Nepalese army has even asked PAHS to train them in disaster relief.”

Dr. Woollard likes to see stories that come full circle. The young girl interviewed in the paper was supported through her education and is now back in her village working as a health professional.

To learn more about the Patan Academy of Health Sciences, watch this YouTube video.

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