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Doctor from Ecuador helps lead Red Cross response to COVID-19

By: Kathy Mueller, Senior communications advisor, Canadian Red Cross
 
“I have learned that I am very capable of doing anything that I put my mind to,” says Dr Denisse Borbor following her shift at a long-term care home in Quebec.

The international medical graduate is currently a public health care advisor for the Canadian Red Cross, leading epidemic, prevention and control teams on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.

Denisse pictured smiling in her Canadian Red Cross vestIt’s a long way from her home in Ecuador and it took many steps, perseverance and family support to get here. Borbor came to Canada in 2015, settling with her parents and youngest son in Montreal. A practicing doctor in Ecuador, she did not yet have the equivalent of a medical degree here, so she devoted her time to studying not just medicine but French as well, occasionally returning to her home country to get some clinical work hours in, to keep her skills fresh.

Five years and two more children later, Borbor’s medical degree had been recognized by Canadian authorities but she could still not practice. She had just resumed her French studies when the pandemic was declared. Everything stopped.

“I needed to do something, to get involved, to support the community as a way of saying thank you for all the support I’ve received,” explains Borbor. Her husband spotted a Red Cross job posting looking for international medical graduates to help with the COVID-19 response. She applied and before she knew it, she was walking the halls of long-term care homes impacted by the pandemic, providing guidance, support and training to staff and reassurance to residents, all at arms-length while wearing personal protective equipment.

“From the first day I felt I was in the right place,” says the mother of three. “My French is still not perfect, but my colleagues had confidence in me. They showed me the kind of support I have only ever seen in my family.”

After several weeks on the job, Borbor, now officially a Canadian citizen, was promoted to team lead. She is a self-described hugger and says it has been challenging not being able to hand out hugs in an effort to lift residents’ spirits. “My grandmother passed away at the beginning of the pandemic, so I have been thinking about her a lot as I work to support the elderly residents,” she says. “Being in lockdown day after day has had a really hard psychological impact on them. I can’t touch them, so I try to look at them in a loving way. They can’t see my smile because of my mask, but I hope they can see it in my eyes.”

Even getting hugs after returning home have to wait. “I come in through the garage. I’m given a towel so I can get out of my clothes immediately and hop into the shower. My clothes go straight into the laundry. Only then do the hugs come out,” says Borbor with a laugh.

Over the past year, Borbor has worked in approximately 20 long-term care facilities in the Montreal area. Her to-do list for the coming year includes continuing to support the Red Cross COVID-19 response, starting a degree in public health, and applying to the family medicine program.

“With the pandemic it may not seem like a positive year but, for me, it’s been really positive,” she says.

The Canadian Red Cross is actively recruiting humanitarian workers, including international medical graduates, to help provide vital support to Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for more information on the positions available.

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