Augustana 2020 Mark Chytracek Leadership Award recipient looks forward to a future in rural medicine

Mary Cairns graduated with a degree in biology and a major leadership award in June, but it was the courses outside of her discipline and the extracurricular activities she pursued that she credits for helping her get into medical school.

Tia Lalani - 22 July 2020

This year’s recipient of the Mark Chytracek Leadership Award has much to look forward to. Aside from the award, her recent graduation and a summer position working as a screener at a local clinic—a job she describes as “a switch between air traffic controller and receptionist”—she has been accepted into medical school at both the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan. While she’s excited about her future plans, she’s equally enthusiastic about what got her here. 

Mary Cairns grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and chose Augustana Campus for a smaller and more intimate environment. 

“I applied to other schools but they just didn’t feel right,” Mary explained. “[North Campus in] Edmonton was the closest campus to home, but it seemed too big for me to feel comfortable. I thought it was worth giving [Augustana] a shot for a year...and then I never left!”

Four years later, Mary is now on her way to Edmonton to study medicine at North Campus.

“I’ve enjoyed biomedical science for a long time,” explained Mary, when asked of her decision to pursue medicine. “But I’ve also been able to see a pretty severe deficit in the quality and availability of doctors in Northern and rural locations. These are really the places where I see the need, and where I think I can do the most good.”

While Mary was thrilled to receive the Mark Chytracek Leadership Award, which is based on demonstrated leadership, service and overall investment in the life of Augustana Campus and/or the broader civic community, as well as academic standing, it was the interview process that stuck with her and gave her a sense of satisfaction. She felt similarly about her interview for medical school. 

“One of the sections on the entrance exam [for medical school] is critical reading, writing and thinking,” Mary said. “Going into that I felt really strong because I had already had that experience since it’s one of those core skills we teach at Augustana.”

“Taking advantage of the opportunities at Augustana also taught me how to present myself, how to communicate and how to talk about the things I’m passionate about,” she explained. “Because I had more of those opportunities, I didn’t feel like I was a student talking to adults—it was more that we were equal. A lot of university students just coming out of their degree use the term “adulting”—but for me, it was ‘No, I’m not adulting. I am an adult.’”

Along with the opportunities she pursued at Augustana—including her work as a social convener with the women’s choir, a wellness project as part of Augustana’s theme house, ambassador of a dog walking program and a First Year Seminar tutor—Mary sees her academic work as integral in her future success as a doctor. 

“I’ve taken so many courses outside of my major, which made me more well-rounded and gave me the ability to take different perspectives,” Mary said. “That experience forces me to look at things not just as a scientist, but as a philosopher. It’s been really challenging, but also valuable, especially when it comes to healthcare because you’re involved with so many different people.”