Black physicians in B.C. recognized for their contributions to health care

·3 min read
Dr. Vera Nyirenda graduated with her degree in medicine from the University of Zambia in 1987 and moved to Hope, B.C., in 2000. (Submitted by Vera Nyirenda - image credit)
Dr. Vera Nyirenda graduated with her degree in medicine from the University of Zambia in 1987 and moved to Hope, B.C., in 2000. (Submitted by Vera Nyirenda - image credit)

When Dr. Vera Nyirenda was in middle school, she decided to become a medical doctor.

Her father shared with her his dream of becoming a physician, a dream that he gave up to get a teaching degree to support his four younger siblings.

"It sort of impressed upon me that my dad really had this dream that he could not achieve at the time, and it would be great if I could do it for him," Nyirenda told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Her interest in medicine grew and in 1987 she graduated from the University of Zambia with her medical degree.

"I did this for me, but I became a doctor too for my dad."

Dr. Vera Nyirenda says the past year has been challenging as a family physician, but having a solid team of health-care workers behind her has made it easier.
Dr. Vera Nyirenda says the past year has been challenging as a family physician, but having a solid team of health-care workers behind her has made it easier.

Now, Nyirenda, a family physician based in Chilliwack, B.C., is being recognized by the National Congress for Black Women Foundation for her contributions to the Black community and the community in general. She's one of five Black physicians to receive the honour this weekend; other honourees include Dr. John Farley, Dr. Pascaline Mahungu, Dr. Gina Ogilvie and Dr. Winston Gittens.

Resilience in health care is the theme of this year's awards, aptly characterizing the challenges health-care workers have had to face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nyirenda said a change in schedule, devoting more time to her practice and changing the way medicine is delivered because of physical distancing has made for a tough year.

"It's also been different I think because … there's been an increase in mental health conditions in patients because of the anxieties and the isolation, so mental health practice has definitely grown during this period, but one has to push through," she said.

Though she still sees some patients in person, she's shifted to video and phone appointments, like many physicians have had to do.

"It's busy, but we're holding solid together as a team of health-care professionals where I work."

Came to Canada in 2000

Nyirenda is no stranger to the idea of resilience; she moved her family from South Africa to Canada in 2000 as violence in the former country was causing concern for her and her young family.

She researched a peaceful place to relocate and settled on Canada. Shortly afterwards, Nyirenda and her family moved to Hope, B.C.

"The beginning was rough," she said.

"I was the only Black person when I arrived in Hope. Settling down as a Black person, a female and a physician, trying to establish a practice wasn't easy. I did have quite a few negative experiences but I met a lot of interesting and caring people that really helped me integrate into the community."

She and her family stayed in the community for 13 years, and then moved to Chilliwack where she continues to run her family practice.

To hear Dr. Nyirenda's interview on The Early Edition, click here: