In June, just ahead of MSF’s Annual General Assembly in Toronto, outgoing president of MSF Canada's Board of Directors Dr. Bruce Lampard introduced Dr. Heather Culbert as his replacement.
Culbert, a family physician with experience in a number of rural and northern communities and downtown health clinics in large cities, first began work with MSF in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2004, and has been instrumental in implementing programs for the treatment of HIV and tuberculosis across the organization. She was first elected to the Board of MSF Canada in 2012.
Christina Campbell spoke with Culbert in June 2014.
What drew you to work with MSF?
I was like a lot of young doctors who have enthusiasm for the idea of going to places where there is a great deal of medical need and where people don’t have access to the kind of services that we have here in Canada.
Can you describe your past experience with MSF?
I spent a year in the eastern DRC working on an HIV project. It was one of the earlier projects to introduce antiretroviral [treatments]. There was active conflict in the area, so it definitely made for a challenging program. After that, I moved to MSF UK to work in [MSF medical research team] the Manson Unit. It was started to help implement antiretroviral programs in projects, because a lot of projects didn’t have familiarity with that kind of complex medical care. When I was there, the focus shifted a little more to tuberculosis [TB], so much of my work was helping implement TB treatment programs.
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How will your experience as a family physician in Canada influence your role as president?
As a physician, I think it’s very important that we keep medical issues on the agenda. People ask why the board needs to have 50 per cent or more medical representation: I think it’s about making sure that we focus on high quality medical programs and innovative solutions, and that we’re not just operationally focused.
What will be your priorities as president of the board?
I think we are doing very well in terms getting our expats into the field, but that’s something we need to continue to focus on. We want to make sure that we get “first missions” out into the field, but we also need to retain people, so that’s a big push right now. We want people to consider MSF a good employer and come back. We also want to work on building our association for when people come back, so that associative life within Canada is strong.
Something else that we have to be aware of as board members is the role of MSF within the humanitarian space. We are all very concerned about security and about access to populations.
If you could say one thing to Canadian donors, what would it be?
Well, first of all: “thank you.” MSF relies very, very heavily on private donations. We make a point of not taking more than a small percentage of our income from government or institutional funds because we want to be able to operate with independence. It’s the donations of private donors, be they large or small, that help us to function in places where many other organizations cannot go.