Dr. Wei He, left, a medical doctor from China, began improving her literacy skills by reading the newspaper with her tutor Valerie Scott. Dr. He is this year’s Saskatchewan recipient of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award.
Photograph by: Bryan Schlosser, Leader-Post, Leader-Post
Dr. Wei He has a dream – to practise medicine in Canada.
While in the process of realizing her dream, the Chinese-born physician has earned a prestigious award. The literacy learner is this year’s Saskatchewan recipient of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award.
“This award means a lot to me and for my children,” said the soft-spoken Reginan in a recent interview.
She was nomimated for the award because of her great determination and success in improving her English language skills while participating in the Regina Public Library’s ESL program.
Among approximately 600 learners in the library’s literacy programs, she stood out because she has overcome many obstacles – including a language barrier – since coming to Canada.
“It’s an inspirational story of someone who has taken advantage of all of the opportunity here to exemplify what literacy can do in your life,” said RPL director Jeff Barber, who nominated her for the award.
For almost nine years, Dr. He practised medicine in China. Arriving in Canada in 2002, her English was limited.
Before the 43-year-old can be accredited to work as a Canadian physician, she must apply for the residency program. That required improving her English skills so she could write Medical Council of Canada exams and interact fluently with patients.
When she signed up for English language training at the library, she was matched with volunteer literacy tutor Valerie Scott in 2007.
While taking the ESL training, Dr. He was working full time, delivering newspapers and caring for two children. At their first meeting, Scott was impressed by her student’s drive to learn English. Together, they’ve worked hard.
“I used her textbooks, we would use the Internet – we would get information everywhere we could to capture the specific terminology and questioning techniques for doctors,” Scott said.
When home and work commitments prevented Dr. He from meeting with Scott, the tutor used a digital recorder and read questions and answers from medical textbooks.
“It was a real challenge, but I enjoyed it,” Scott said.
However, Scott had difficulty pronouncing complex medical terminology and lacked knowledge of medical conditions, so retired Regina physician Dr. Ann Grahame agreed to become Dr. He’s second tutor.
Dr. He has participated in the International Medical Graduate (IMG) Preceptorship Program and written two of three Medical Council of Canada examinations, which qualifies her to apply for the residency training program in December.
Grahame’s help is invaluable. “I applied once, but I didn’t get matched – the competition was really high,” Dr. He said. “Each year, they only accept four International Medical Graduates.
Besides hitting the medical books to refresh her knowledge, she attends numerous classes, seminars and conferences arranged by the College of Medicine.
Since arriving in Canada, Dr. He has divorced. The single mom of three children – aged two, 4 1/2 and 17 years – balances family life, studying, and ESL training with being on call for the Chinese community.
Using her literacy and medical skills, she translates for Mandarin-speaking patients requiring assistance in hospital emergency departments, hospital wards, the Allan Blair Cancer Centre and doctors’ offices.
“There is no Mandarin-speaking doctor in Regina, so that’s why I’m trying very hard to become a (Canadian) doctor, so I can help our Chinese community,” Dr. He said.
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