Her Career: Kelly Hadfield, Founder of Ghana Medical Help

Inspired by her esteemed uncle, Chris Hadfield, Kelly Hadfield grew up knowing that a person has no limits to what he or she can accomplish.

In 2007, she co-founded her first non-profit organization called Prom Blitz, which enabled marginalized graduating high school girls to attend their prom with their peers.

At the University of Guelph, Kelly gained experience in an array of health improvement fields, including physiotherapy, peer counseling, global health, and research. In 2010, while completing her undergraduate degree, she founded Ghana Medical Help (GMH), an international charity aimed to alleviate suffering and improve health outcomes in rural Ghana.

Today, while attending medical school in Ireland, Kelly is working on maximizing GMH’s impact on improving the health status of rural West African communities.

What does a typical day look like for you, from waking up to going to bed?

I wake up and jog through the Irish countryside to start each day. After a quick shower and breakfast, I put on my medical student cap and head to class. Most of the day is filled with studying medical odds and ends. Then it’s time to briefly focus on my tasks as Co-Chair for my university’s Health Equity Project. I manage a quick bite for dinner while putting on my Director of Ghana Medical Help cap and sitting down to a few hours of Skype meetings. This is followed by a few hours of whatever GMH work is required from me that week, or else more medical review. And then, finally, to bed.

For survival’s sake, these days are accompanied by dozens of cups of tea, one or two guitar breaks, and a fair bit of chocolate. It’s not uncommon to see a rather large glass of red wine accompanying those late night meetings as well.

Can you briefly describe your career journey?

I’ve always believed that anyone can absolutely achieve any goal they put their mind to, provided they have enough resilient determination and stubbornness. With this in mind, I co-founded a local non-profit back home in Barrie when I was 17 called the Prom Blitz project to support the well being of my peers who were, for reasons beyond their control, more marginalized and disadvantaged. During my undergraduate at the University of Guelph, I became engaged with ways to support the mental and physical health and well being of my community in a variety of ways, including research, peer counseling, physiotherapy, and global health. After completing an Honours B.Sc. in Biomedical Science, I conducted a M.Sc. that investigated an innovative, new approach for potentially more effective large-scale malarial monitoring in Africa.

Throughout both degrees, I had been working on developing the charity I founded at age 21 in 2010 called Ghana Medical Help. Initially, it was just a personal project to alleviate needless suffering. However, as I became exposed to the larger rural global health need and began developing more comprehensive, innovative, capacity building projects to tackle that need, GMH evolved into much more and became a functioning, independent organization. After finishing my degrees, I was able to work on developing the charity into what it needed to be for me to transition into medical school without hindering its impact, operations or development, which is where I am today.

Any advice for women looking to start their own business?

Work hard but always be adaptive and go with the flow of things.

What have you learned most about yourself since you started GMH?

I’ve learned that the best leader I can be is one who truly leads by example – using a relentless work ethic and unending positive energy.

What do you love most about working in this industry? What aspect do you find the most challenging?

What I love most is the genuine change you’re able to create in the world by working in this industry. Ghana Medical Help is stimulating major advances in the capacity for health care service and delivery for millions of lives in overstretched, underserved regions of Ghana. Using research to monitor and evaluate that progress enables me to constantly bear witness to the impact being created. That combined with the countless incredible people I work with who threw their entire hearts into helping me fills me to the brim with positive energy.

The pressure of fundraising is the most challenging component to working in this field. I am very particular in the ethical approach to marketing Ghana Medical Help takes, as a lot of abuse, misinterpretation and straight up lies often take place in the marketing world of charities. While we can propagate good practice and exist as a transparent, trustworthy charity, it does make fundraising more of a challenge and thereby hinder progress with our innovative, absolutely awesome projects. Sticking a sad, crying child on a poster would help us raise more funds, but I do not think the means justify the ends.

If you could try a different career for a bit, what would it be?

I always wanted to become a doctor and alleviate the mental and/or physical suffering in my community. If I were to change tracts, I would become a pilot. Aviation runs in my blood, and I was in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets for six years in my youth. Being a pilot can bring the whole world to your doorstep.

On Saturday November 21, Ghana Medical Help presents Gala for Ghana, an immersive experience bringing the sights and sounds of Ghana to life, with special guest Chris Hadfield.

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