Alexander (Sandy) Wright celebrates his medical degree with his family at a convocation ceremony. Photo: UBC Okanagan

UBC Okanagan student earns MD and PhD at the same time

Alexander (Sandy) Wright is the first UBCO student to graduate from MD/PhD program

As a newly graduated doctor from the Southern Medical Program (SMP) at UBC Okanagan, Alexander Wright is experiencing a world of ‘firsts.’

The first UBC Okanagan student to earn a medical degree and a PhD at the same time, Wright’s journey started in 2012 when he was one of the first 32 students of the SMP’s inaugural class.

“Showing up in Kelowna as part of the first class—the faculty, staff and community embraced us whole-heartedly,” said Wright.

“It has been a real privilege to participate in the new program. The opportunities and experiences provided to us were unparalleled.”

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It was during his first year of medical school that Wright’s passion and background in research led him to pursue enrolment with the Faculty of Medicine’s combined MD/PhD program. The seven-year intensive program offers students the opportunity to combine their medical education with demanding scientific training.

Wright’s research explored the effects of sports-related concussions on various aspects of brain physiology. He worked with the Heat Athletics program and other local teams for data collection.

While studying concussions, Wright was injured in a rec hockey game and suffered from a concussion and post-concussion symptoms that sidelined him from his research, but also led to a valuable learning experience.

“Going through such a complicated recovery process not only gave me new perspectives into post-concussion syndrome, but also a better understanding of mental health in general,” he said.

“My physical symptoms eventually settled, but the emotional symptoms took much longer to subside. Having this experience has genuinely helped me better understand and communicate with my patients and contribute to research.”

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The double degree doctor now heads to residency at the University of Saskatchewan after eight years in Kelowna. Wright will join the university’s ophthalmology (diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders) program that welcomes only one new resident each year.

Wright said that he and his family one day hope to return to the Okanagan.

“A lot can change over the next five-to-seven years of training, but I would really value the opportunity to return to the Okanagan to practice and to contribute to medical education at the SMP.”

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