UBC Okanagan student earns medical degree, PhD at same time

Seven years ago, Alexander Wright took his first steps towards becoming a doctor.

This week, after countless hours of dedicated studying, Wright is graduating from UBC Okanagan’s southern medical program.

He was one of the first 32 students admitted to the program’s inaugural class in January 2012.

“Showing up in Kelowna as part of the first class, the faculty, staff and community embraced us wholeheartedly,” Wright told UBCO.

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

Wright is also graduating this week as the first UBC medical student to complete a medical degree and a PhD at one of the university’s distributed medical programs.


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During his first year of medical school, Wright began pursuing enrolment with the combined MD/PhD program. The seven-year intensive program offers students the opportunity to combine their medical education with demanding scientific training.

For his PhD work, Wright teamed up with school of health and exercise sciences professor Paul van Donkelaar.

According to UBCO, the two explored the effects of sports-related concussions on various aspects of brain physiology, including control of brain blood flow. Wright’s work included data collection from UBCO’s athletics program and local junior teams.

Notably, while studying concussions, Wright suffered a severe concussion while playing in a recreational hockey game in Kelowna. His post-concussion symptoms sidelined him from his research and studies for nearly seven months.

Today, he views the concussion experience as a learning moment.

“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,” said Wright.

“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.”

Up next for Wright, his wife and two young daughters is Saskatoon and residency training in ophthalmology at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Ophthalmology is such a beautiful intersection between medicine and surgery,” said Wright.

“Above all, I look forward to the immense impact we can have on patients’ quality of life. The discipline is the perfect blend of all facets of my personality and interests.”

Wright doesn’t know how long he’ll be in Saskatoon, and isn’t ruling out a return to Kelowna.

“I like to set goalposts off in the distance at 10-to 20-year intervals and aim towards them,” he said.

“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 southern medical program.”

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