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Alumni spotlight

In the second of four spotlights on the 2012 Alumni Tribute Award winners, we feature Dr. Andrew Furey, the 2012 winner of the Alumnus of the Year award. Dr. Furey is an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine and the co-founder and president of Team Broken Earth, a volunteer task force supporting the relief effort in Haiti. Dr. Furey recounts his experiences and discusses Memorial's impact on his life in this interview with Gazette contributor Jennifer Batten.

JB: You began with Memorial as a student and now you're on the other side, teaching the next generation of medical professionals. How has the time you spent at Memorial contributed to where you are today?
AF: Memorial University has had a significant impact on my life, and I believe it is a cornerstone of Newfoundland and Labrador – a leading institution that has shaped the province and created opportunity for everyone. My father came from humble beginnings and he worked hard to get to university; I credit him for my decision to attend Memorial. My mother also attended Memorial and it is where she met my father. Likewise I met my wife at Memorial, so I guess I owe more than my education to the university. In addition to growing as an individual, I completed my bachelor and master degrees here, as well as my medicine degree and surgical residency. Attending Memorial has given me tremendous opportunity to stay in the province, which is very important to me. It is also an interesting experience being a student and now a teacher; I've learned just as much from my students as I have from being a student.

JB: You first travelled to Haiti in June 2010. Can you describe the conditions there?
AF: The challenges were immense. At that time in Haiti, there was an incredible amount of downed infrastructure. It was challenging to work in the conditions we were faced with; working with people we didn't know and in very tight quarters. I was truly pushing myself to my personal and professional limits. Fortunately there was an amazing team atmosphere, which was important to ensure everyone got to know each other, and learn from each other, moving toward the ultimate goal of providing care for patients. It was also difficult to be there for such a short period of time; there is so much work to be done.

JB: What inspired you to form Team Broken Earth upon your return from that first trip?
AF: Everyone I've known who has travelled to Haiti as part of Team Broken Earth has come away from the experience wanting to give more. I really felt a connection to the place, to the people and to the cause, and I simply felt I hadn't done enough and wanted to do more. There were people from all over the U.S. and Canada on that first team. It made me recognize that Memorial University has some of the best medical professionals in the world. So I thought, why not create a team of our own? The interest was overwhelming and many people came on board immediately; we even had to turn people away.

JB: What is your ultimate goal for Team Broken Earth?
AF: First of all, it's important that Team Broken Earth continues to provide clinical care on an ongoing basis. I would say education is the most important thing and a major goal of this initiative. I want to equip doctors and nurses in Haiti with the knowledge and expertise they need. On every trip we make, the focus is increasingly on teaching and education. Ultimately, that's what's going to change Haiti and allow the people to maintain their own medical system into the future. As far as I know, there are no other medical schools in Canada following this exact model of acute multidisciplinary care, establishing a relationship with a developing country. I'm thrilled that the University of Calgary will be sending a team to Haiti in January. My hope is that other medical schools across Canada come on board, increasing capacity and helping more and more people in need.

JB: How does it feel to be receving the Alumnus of the Year award?
AF: I am truly humbled and honoured by this award, especially when I look at the names associated with it in the past. However, Team Broken Earth is more than just a name, it is a team, and I feel I am accepting this on behalf of all the members of our team. I am tremendously proud to be a graduate of Memorial and I'm grateful for the opportunity to give back.