Building character: Dr. Louise Auger

By Leila Nathaniel
Dr. Louise Auger is not your typical pediatrician. Born in Quebec City, she studied medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and earned a doctorate in Biomedical Sciences and Fellowship in Critical Care Medicine. She spent seven years working in Kuwait, leaving due to the Gulf War.
Returning to Canada, she has practiced pediatrics at The Montreal Children’s Hospital for the last twenty years and is an Associate Professor of Paediatrics at McGill University. Her work at the Children’s includes founding the Multicultural Clinic in 1996, which provides care to children born in other countries, such as refugees, immigrants and adoptees.
For the past three years, Dr. Auger has travelled for five weeks to teach and practice medicine in developing countries. In 2007 she worked in Mbarara, Uganda, and in 2008 she went to Hanoi, Vietnam. Her most recent trip, in December 2009, brought her to Kilema, Tanzania, sponsored by an NGO called the Canada Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA). She was the only pediatrician at that hospital, and enjoyed sharing knowledge with the local doctors.
“Whenever you go to a developing country, you bring information they don’t have, but you also learn a lot too,” Dr. Auger explains. “You need to be creative since they don’t have many resources. We learn to do the best we can with the little we have.” As a result, “the doctors are excellent clinicians. They have amazing skills and can diagnose quickly with few or no tests available.”
While it may have been tough, this was not the worst she had experienced, “The patient load was much greater in Mbarara than Kilema, and so it was emotionally more difficult. Kilema has a smaller hospital with fewer patients, and living conditions were better because it’s a very fertile area with less malnutrition.”
Dr. Auger compares it to the challenges in Uganda. “There was a fifty-bed hospital for pediatrics,” she says, “but up to 150 patients in those beds! There were up to three children to a bed, and up to six babies on examining tables used as beds. The families were destitute and the illnesses considerably more critical, including severe malnutrition, malaria, AIDS and a host of preventable infectious diseases.”
These weren’t her first visits to developing countries, but Dr. Auger knows these experiences have helped reinforce her personal and professional values. She understands how crucial it is to be conservative in the management of our resources. “We need to be respectful of and preserve what we have, instead of wasting it. I hopefully am able to influence my own children in that respect, and try to do the same in my professional life.”
With that, Dr. Auger says, “I would go back to Africa or any developing country in a heartbeat. I encourage everyone to volunteer in developing countries as it’s a very worthwhile endeavour. It enriches your life, and I feel that it is an experience and a privilege every doctor, resident and student would benefit from.”