When disaster strikes

Photo of Dr. Rashad Chin supplied by University of Alberta
Photo of Dr. Rashad Chin supplied by University of Alberta

Edmonton emergency physician travels the world to help people in areas devastated by natural disasters.

Medical professionals have the privilege of being involved with the most personal aspects of a person’s life – their health, their suffering and their wellbeing. This work is incredibly rewarding because the need is so great and so urgent.

It goes against human nature to run towards danger as others attempt to flee. But for Dr. Rashad Chin, an Edmonton-based emergency room physician, and his colleagues in the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT), heading into the danger-zone when natural disaster strikes is second nature.

“There is so much suffering that occurs with natural disasters,” he explains. “And as medical professionals, we have the ability to make a difference.”

Dr. Chin first became involved in disaster relief work in 2010, soon after a massive earthquake decimated Haiti. “I was on a rotation at the Grey Nuns, as a part of the U of A Emergency Medicine Residency program, and one of the emergency physicians at the hospital had just returned from Haiti,” he recalls. “He told me what an incredible experience it was and put me in touch with CMAT.”

Dr. Chin soon found himself in Leogane, Haiti, close to the epicenter of the earthquake. Inspired by the overwhelming need for medical and humanitarian aid, upon his return he adjusted schedules and used vacation time to make two more journeys to Haiti over the following two months.

“My training in emergency medicine was very translatable to these situations and I quickly realized it was my passion.”

In support of his dedication to disaster relief work, Dr. Chin completed a Master’s degree in Disaster Medicine in Italy and has taken on numerous roles with CMAT, including his current position as national chair and coordinator of major CMAT relief efforts. He was on the ground in the Philippines in 2013 following Super Typhoon Haiyan and this past spring/summer, Dr. Chin coordinated relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

“With Nepal, we were able to mobilize a core medical team within 72 hours after the disaster,” he says. “I used real-time spreadsheets to coordinate our volunteers and was the point person here for the people on the ground.” Dr. Chin worked between shifts and after shifts, sleeping when he could and going dark when he was working in the emergency department. “It was a long two weeks.”

That kind of juggling is nothing new for Dr. Chin and his CMAT colleagues. “We have no paid staff at all, so everything is done by our volunteers…we run very lean.” He notes that all the volunteers pay their own way to and from disaster areas, ensuring that the funds raised by the organization can be used to pay operational costs and purchase much-needed medicine, equipment and supplies.

Despite the time and energy it demands, Dr. Chin is grateful for the chance to contribute to CMAT’s invaluable work.

“Medical professionals have the privilege of being involved with the most personal aspects of a person’s life – their health, their suffering and their wellbeing. This work is incredibly rewarding because the need is so great and so urgent.”

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