News: Space medicine awakens dream

Published in the May 20 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Space medicine awakens dream

It might have been one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, but this was definitely something even more for one University of Alberta student.

Michael Gallagher, a fourth-year U of A medicine student, got the experience of a lifetime when he was accepted for a one-month Aerospace Medicine Elective at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Texas last month.

“It was one of those things that re-woke my childhood dream,” said Gallagher, who says he has always been interested in space exploration, and even has his own pilot’s licence. Gallagher got to see how medical triage units are set up around space shuttles and launch vehicles, learn different medical concepts specifically geared towards space, how astronaut’s health is affected in space, and more.

“I was fortunate enough to be a part of the medical triage for space shuttle Discovery’s landing,” he said. “I got to be right on the runway when the shuttle landed.” The 26-year-old med student was one of only three chosen for the four-week elective, and the only Canadian who was accepted.

“I was just very, very lucky to be chosen among a lot of fantastic people,” he said. “It was just amazing.” Gallagher, who is heading down to Medicine Hat for a residency this summer, says the skills he learned at NASA should apply to working in medicine in rural communities.

“Being in space, that’s probably the farthest away and with limited resources you can have,” he said. “That would be like in very small, rural community too.” And while Gallagher says it would be a dream come true if he could work in medicine with NASA someday, for now he’s fine with doing something a little closer to home.

“To work in rural family medicine where I can have a plane and hop around to take care of different communities, that’s sort of another dream of mine,” he said.

All medical schools across the country have mandatory elective time built into the curriculum. The elective time is meant to allow students to take a closer look at certain disciplines or broaden their experiences and knowledge, outside of school.

“We encourage our students to expand their knowledge base and look at all kinds of different areas,” said Dr. Fraser Brenneis, vice dean of education for the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

“Does this potentially have an impact or opportunity down the road as far as where Michael ends up or what he ends up doing? Absolutely.”

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