Nfld. & Labrador

A 9/11 scholarship helped this Lewisporte woman become a doctor. Now she's giving back and here to stay

Dr. Raie Lene Kirby always knew she wanted to practise medicine in central Newfoundland. That desire only solidified when she was part of a group working to help passengers who arrived in the community following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.

'I don't see myself moving any time soon,' says Dr. Raie Lene Kirby

Dr. Raie Lene Kirby, left, shares a moment with Shirley Brooks-Jones in 2015. Kirby was one of the first recipients of a scholarship created by Brooks-Jones following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. (Submitted by Raie Lene Kirby)

Growing up as a teenager in Lewisporte, Raie Lene Kirby always knew she wanted to practise medicine in central Newfoundland. That desire only solidified when she was part of a group working to help passengers who arrived in the region following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

"I think it solidified that I wanted to try to help people," Kirby, who now works as a family physician in Botwood, told CBC Radio's Weekend AM on Sunday.

"It was certainly eye-opening to see so many cultures and ethnicities and backgrounds and everyone being so connected in such a time of trauma and emergency.

"I enjoyed making those connections, and tying the stories and the backgrounds of people together. I think that's what solidified family medicine specifically as the specialty of choice for my practice."

Kirby worked with many of the "plane people" who came to the community after they landed in Gander, often spending time with children while their parents were tending to family business.

One of the people who landed in the community was Shirley Brooks-Jones, who knew she wanted to thank the people of Lewisporte for their kindness and generosity.

Planes line up on the runway of the Gander airport after they were diverted on Sept. 11, 2001. Passengers were sent to multiple nearby communities, including Lewisporte. (Nav Canada/Canadian Press)

In the months that followed 9/11, Brooks-Jones launched the Lewisporte Area Flight 15 scholarship, offering a small financial boost to local high school seniors for university. More than 340 students have received the scholarship since 2002.

"[It's] for the first year just to help them get started, and just to let them know that we will never forget what they did for us plane people.… We will never, ever forget," Brooks-Jones said in a recent CBC interview.

Kirby was among the first group of recipients, and said it was an honour to receive it. It often means a lot more than just the money to recipients, she said.

"It was what it represented, I think, that meant so much to all of us who received it," she said. "It's more the memory and the privilege of them recognizing us, and putting that care and that love back to the community into us."

It's not easy, but I love where I work … I don't see myself moving anytime soon."- Dr. Raie Lene Kirby

After getting the scholarship and graduating from high school, Kirby spent time at Acadia University to work on her undergrad for her medical degree. However, she said she always had the desire to return to central Newfoundland.

Once she was accepted into the medical school at Memorial University and began working in residencies, she said she came to realize the importance of family medicine and giving back to her home region.

"Those types of physicians really solidified to me the importance of staying home, and helping take care of our communities," Kirby said.

"The fact that we have a very interesting aspect of growing up in the area and then working in the area, I think that really helps kind of provide a good understanding of the social determinants of health and some of the issues that our patients have."

Kirby says she has always wanted to practise medicine in central Newfoundland, and that working with young doctors is key to addressing a doctor shortage. (Submitted by Raie Lene Kirby)

Kirby said practising in rural Newfoundland has kept her busy. About one in five people in Newfoundland and Labrador don't have a family doctor, according to research by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

But among stories of doctors being overworked and leaving for greener pastures, she believes working with young doctors and health-care workers currently in the province is vital for the future.

"To be honest, I think it's the learners that really keep my focus," Kirby said. "It's hard times in health care everywhere to say the least, but certainly for family physicians here on the island.

"It's having those learners come in and really kind of asking those questions. 'Why are you doing this? Why are you still here?' Really a lot of it is for them, it's trying to promote to them that this is not easy … but it can be rewarding. It's not easy, but I love where I work.… I don't see myself moving anytime soon."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Weekend AM

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