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Leah Sarah Peer is the Founder and Executive Director of the Peer Medical Foundation (PMF), a youth-led international not-for-profit committed to advancing health equity, diversity, inclusivity and racial justice in medicine. She is also a medical student at Saint James School of Medicine, a Bachelor of Science, Specialization in Biology, and a Minor in Human Rights graduate from Concordia University and the Recipient of the Anne C. Carter Global Health Fellowship.
Through her interactions with patient populations in Canada, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Anguilla, Leah has been involved in local and global humanitarian projects ensuring the provision of medical care for underserved communities across the world. Her aim is to become a diverse, committed and compassionate leader in public service as a global health change-maker, human rights advocate and physician in caring for life.
What does your organization do?
The Peer Medical Foundation is a volunteer youth-led international not-for-profit organization committed to improving health equity, inclusivity, diversity and racial justice in medicine. We support marginalized patient populations (Migrants, 2SLGBTQIA+, BIPOC & more) through health advocacy, research, and education. Our events, workshops, resources and initiatives for patients, providers and the public aim to increase awareness of the inequities that exist in healthcare around the world and ways to address them.
If you could get Canadians to understand one thing about your work, what would it be?
The immense social, political, medical, and cultural challenges of the last years have exacerbated the health inequities present in our communities. At PMF, we offer allyship as a framework to pursue change. This means that our executives are trained in tools already a part of the practice of medicine. These include the art of lifelong learning; humility in complications; an expectation of imperfection; and the awareness of being bound together with those who suffer in our persistence in the pursuit of healing. It is these qualities that differentiate us from other organizations as we believe that the health professional’s fight for the health and healing of patients is the fight of the ally.
What are some unique challenges that you have faced in your work? What are you doing to overcome them?
The Peer Medical Foundation strives to improve healthcare access for marginalized patient populations across the world to advance health equity in all its forms. As such, some unique challenges we’ve faced have been a lack of funding opportunities to support our work as well as finding collaborating partners who share our mutual interests. To overcome these challenges, we actively seek assistance, direction and guidance from our mentors, advisors as well as provincial and federal government entities. We welcome feedback and donations from the public and all who resonate with our mission and vision as we collectively push for more inclusive and equitable healthcare for all.
How has the pandemic impacted your work?
A tiny flame the size of a matchstick is enough to start a fire.
If this unprecedented year has shown us anything, it is that Covid-19 has not been the only pandemic. The impact of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and more have existed for centuries and are long-standing, wide-reaching, and even fatal. At PMF, we are mindful of sickness and suffering, and that we are bound together with communities as allies. As such, instead of utter paralysis, the pandemic inspired action and newfound advocacy in the quest for health equity, inclusivity, diversity, and racial justice in medicine. It has also renewed hope that advocating for human rights, patients and for access to healthcare is something we will continue fighting for irrespective of time or distance.
What keeps you going? Are there any hopeful stories that you can share with us?
As a Medical Student, Global Health Fellow and the Founder and Executive Director of the Peer Medical Foundation, my passion for science and service, of caring in a complex world where the challenges are enormous but change is possible. This vision serves as a guiding force within PMF, and has crafted our sense of community, to never forget that there is a heart beating in every human being.
Notable PMF stories include the Peer Med Podcast’s, “Behind Diagnoses: Patients” series that was featured on CBC Radio. It provides those with chronic illnesses, rare diseases and disabilities with a platform to share their stories navigating the healthcare system. It sheds light on the importance of listening to patient voices and lived experiences as they provide valuable insight that may guide clinical practice and medical education. Another project in the works at PMF has been to aid new mothers during the pandemic through the creation of Pediatric Care Kits for the Hamilton & Mississauga Hospitals. Lastly, in the spirit of Christmas, we will be providing gifts to children at the SickKids Hospital in Toronto.
All these efforts through our different initiatives serve as a reminder of the struggles we’ve collectively faced and highlight that our impact, commitment and service to these communities are at the heart of what we do!