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Canadian Doctors in the Field

Dr. Norman Bethune operating on a communist soldier in Hopei, China, 1939. (Photo: National Film Board of Canada fonds, Library and Archives Canada, a114795)

 

Canadians are often strong advocates for human rights, both in Canada and internationally. For those who are active beyond our national borders, this can mean working in dangerous conflict zones. What motivates these individuals to work in such circumstances?

Canadian Doctors in the Field uses powerful artifacts to tell the stories of three fascinating Canadian doctors who have worked in conflict zones around the world. The exhibit is located in the Museum’s introductory gallery (What Are Human Rights?).

 

Norman Bethune (1890-1939)

Black and white photo of a man looking slightly ahead and to our right.

Norman Bethune, about 1938-1939. (Photo: National Film Board of Canada fonds, Library and Archives Canada, a160718)

 

Dr. Norman Bethune was convinced that recovery from illness should not be related to social class. This led him to identify as a communist. His political convictions motivated him to join the fight against fascism in Spain during the country’s civil war in the 1930s. There he organized a mobile blood transfusion service – one of the first of its kind. Bethune later travelled to China where he served as a surgeon for Chinese communists fighting against the Japanese. He risked his health working in conflict zones. While performing a surgery he contracted blood poisoning and died.

 

Lucille Teasdale Corti (1929-1996)

Black and white portrait of a woman looking to our right.

Lucille Teasdale Corti, 1950s. (Photo: Dominique Corti, M.D., Teasdale-Corti Foundation)

 

Dr. Lucille Teasdale Corti believed that people should have access to medical care regardless of their circumstances. She was one of Canada’s first female surgeons. In the early 1960s, Teasdale Corti went to Lacor, Uganda to work in a small clinic. There she faced the challenge of treating hundreds of patients a day. Difficulties mounted during the decades of civil conflict that wracked Uganda beginning in the 1970s. Armed factions targeted the hospital, stealing drugs and kidnapping medical staff. Teasdale Corti later contracted HIV while performing surgery. Yet, she continued working for ten years before succumbing to the virus in 1996.

 

Samantha Nutt (born 1969)

Portrait of a smiling woman looking directly at the camera.

Samantha Nutt, 2011. (Photograph by Dustin Rabin)

 

For Dr. Samantha Nutt, the wellbeing of women and children caught up in war is of paramount concern. Since 1995, Nutt has worked in conflict zones around the world, primarily overseeing long-term programming geared towards the empowerment of women and children to build a peaceful future. This work puts her own safety at risk. She has been physically threatened and caught in gun fights between warring militias. Armed conflict has claimed the lives of friends and colleagues. Nutt’s experiences of war, and its effects on children in particular, motivated her to found War Child in 1999.