On April 30th, I attended the Operation Med School (OMS) Conference at UBC as an Ambassador for the MS Society. The conference is a day-long event held annually for grade 12 students and undergrads who have expressed an interest in attending medical school. It gives them the opportunity to hear from and meet medical professionals to learn more. Each year, OMS chooses a charity to donate part of proceeds from the conference to. This year, they chose the Canadian MS Society.
I spent 3 days preparing a power point presentation on MS and NMO and the work the Canadian MS Society does. My friend Taryn, who works for the BC-Yukon Division, joined me at the conference for support. I spent the afternoon giving my half hour presentation four times-there were 200 students in attendance, so they were broken up into groups of 50.
I decided that it would be interesting for the students to get some hands-on experience about what it’s like to struggle with some of the symptoms of MS and NMO, so I bought along some props to help me illustrate my point. I had one volunteer from the audience come up and put a high heel shoe on their left foot and a swimming flipper on their right and then asked them to walk a straight line. The idea was to simulate what it would feel like to try and walk with a lack of balance (the high heel) and foot drop (the flipper). All of the students who volunteered were trying to hold onto the table for support and agreed that there’s no way they would be able to walk around campus for a whole day like that.
The second simulation involved a volunteer putting on a pair of oven mitts and then I asked them to either button or unbutton or zip up their jacket and then to untie and tie their shoes. It took them longer than usual and helped give them an idea what it might be like to live with neuropathy (numbness) in their hands. They got a sense of how frustrating it could be to struggle with small motor skills.
For the final simulation I passed around a pair of safety glasses that I had coated with layers of white glue to blur the field of vision. This was to demonstrate what someone with optic neuritis might experience during an attack. I asked them to try and read something, which was of course, impossible. I always think it’s interesting to let someone try these experiments so that they can better understand the kinds of things people living with MS and NMO deal with on a daily basis.
I was also able to share about the research the MS Society does, having just finished two terms as a Community Representative and to talk about the Interprofessional Health Mentors Program at UBC. At the end of my talk, I invited students to join us for our local MS Walks as either a participant or as a volunteer. Taryn ended up with a deluge of students wanting to volunteer at the walks, so that was fantastic! We’d brought lots of fliers, books and handouts about MS and NMO and by the end of the afternoon pretty much everything had been snapped up!
It was a wonderful opportunity to inspire the future of health care and we had a really great time. This was my first event as an MS/NMO Ambassador and I am looking forward to future events to engage with the community. Next week, I am headed to Port Coquitlam’s council meeting to speak briefly and receive a proclamation for MS awareness month from the Mayor. In about 3 weeks, I will be speaking to UBC medical students about collaborative care at Vancouver General Hospital. I can’t wait!