Humanism in Medicine

West Park Chief of Staff honoured for work in Nepal


Dr. Nora Cullen (left, front row) and colleagues in Nepal

West Park’s Chief of Staff is receiving a special award for what she does on her vacation.

For the last 13 years, Dr. Nora Cullen has spent much of her vacation time travelling to Nepal to do her part in making the world a better place.

It’s the work she’s done on those trips with her not-for-profit, NepalAbility, that has earned Dr. Nora Cullen, a Toronto native and Chief of Staff at West Park Healthcare Centre, this year’s Humanism in Medicine Award from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Cullen, who was “quite shocked” about her recognition, was more eager to speak about NepalAbility and her time in Nepal than her own award, which will be handed out at the University’s Department of Medicine Annual Day event on June 11.

NepalAbility was founded in 2006 after Dr. Cullen saw an inspiring speaker at her first job discussing his work in the developing healthcare sector, where she became overwhelmed with a need to do her part.

 “Some of my colleagues had said to me, ‘what are we going to do?’ We knew we weren’t going to change the world,” Dr. Cullen recalls. “But we can change the small things.”

She began holding monthly meetings in 2005 and by 2006, NepalAbility had mobilized and sent a team of four clinicians to conduct an environmental scan and develop a plan.

“She bravely embarked down the path of starting a not-for-profit organization, that has grown to become an international success,” explains Dr. McKyla McIntyre of the University of Toronto in one of the nomination letters. “She exemplifies what it means to dedicate a career to social justice.”

The overall objective of the NepalAbility is to promote quality of life for patients with disabilities in Nepal by enhancing education amongst staff, patients and families and supporting rehabilitation endeavours within Nepal. The project team is comprised mostly of rehabilitation professionals from Canada. To learn more about NepalAbility or to donate, visit NepalAbility.

Her creative on-the-spot thinking has produced incredible protocols for simple care utilizing natural items native to the landscape, including honey from a spinal cord injury patient’s beehive for antiseptic and banana leaves as wound coverings for the patient’s sores. It’s this innovative yet practical application that has made NepalAbility and Dr. Cullen so successful in aiding the development of physical and neurological rehabilitation.

The down-to-earth and judgment free attitude she possesses has made Dr. Cullen a welcome guest and teacher to Nepali locals and hospital staff. When it comes to the culture shock of a developing country, she’s adapted pretty well. “I’ve always loved nature,” she says frankly while speaking about her personal worm farm and love of the outdoors, which she came by naturally from her family’s legacy of Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village, and a number of nurseries.

As for what motivates her to go back year after year, Dr. Cullen speaks emotionally about her work and the progress of Nepal. “It’s the feeling that you’re making a difference, even if it’s one patient at a time.”