Student Success

Congratulations go out to Dr. Juan Carlos Olivares Contreras, a student finishing the program in  Lethbridge College’s English Language Centre. He was part of a six-person panel discussing the newcomer experience in Canada that kicked off the Premier’s Summit on Fairness to Newcomers on March 17 in Calgary.

A man stands next to a sign that says "Premier's Summit on Fairness for Newcomers."
Dr. Juan Carlos Olivares Contreras stands beside the banner for a provincial summit on the newcomer experience.

Juan Carlos is originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. In 1998, he entered the same medical school that his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father (all also named Juan Carlos!) all attended, founded more than two centuries earlier in 1792. Then, while practising general medicine in Guadalajara, he won a scholarship to one of the most prestigious private schools in Mexico to study the brand-new specialty of Quality in Medical care. Upon graduation, Juan Carlos lived in Quintana Roo, Mexico, for 10 years with his young family and gained considerable experience in accreditation, project management, and clinical practice.

He and his family moved to Lethbridge 18 months ago so his son could have a better quality of life. Now working as a pharmacy assistant, Juan Carlos is putting his effort towards once again being a doctor. He is optimistic about what the future may bring, and is looking forward to serving people once again.

The Communications team was pleased to chat with Dr. Olivares Contreras about his experiences at the college and speaking at the March 17 event. Here’s what he had to say:

So – how did it go? Were you nervous?

Dr. Olivares Contreras: It was a great event and was an honour to be invited. I was impressed to see all these very important people from different profession who came together for this very noble and very smart reason. Having all these people together makes it more of a priority now.

What did you speak about?

Dr. Olivares Contreras: I spoke about how I had been a doctor for over 18 years in Mexico, and trying to validate my profession has been confusing since it seems there are several paths. My medical specialty is quality patient care - a specialty that doesn't exist here in Canada, but it brings engineering systems to medicine in order to make it safer and more efficient. Basically, my specialty helps to cure systems as well as prevent them from getting sick in the first place. 

As a health professional, I am concerned when I hear that there is a lack of doctors in Canada. It's curious because when I worked in Mexico as a health administrator, I was the first in the country to build from the ground up a program to train, recruit and maintain doctors in marginalized areas. At that time, we had an exceedingly high rate of maternal mortality because we did not have gynecologists and we also wanted to accredit our local health clinics, but we just did not have enough emergency doctors to have one on shift 24-7. I took advantage of this need to develop my program. Believe me, I would love for a program like the one I developed in Mexico exist here in Canada, especially because now I´m on the other side trying to be able to work in my professional area.

Were you nervous speaking in front of such a big crowd?

Dr. Olivares Contreras: Yes, for sure! I used to be natural speaker in Mexico, and I used to give speeches to groups. [Public speaking in a second language] can definitely impact your personality a lot. It is very hard when you can’t express yourself the way you are used to – it makes you feel a little less confident. You have all of these specific words in your brain and when you try to translate to another language you have to use the more basic words. You have to use a simpler language – as if you were a child.

Three men smile for the camera.
Dr. Juan Carlos Olivares Contreras (centre) was supported by English as a Second Language instructor Herb Claxton (left) and English Language Centre Academic Coordinator Quentin Boehr as he prepared to speak at a provincial summit last month.

So what’s next? Are you doing more work to advocate for these changes?

Dr. Olivares Contreras:  My plan is to share plans that we used in Mexico [that allowed for temporary emergency accreditation, oversight and training of medical professionals]. It was a challenging situation to convince to the people who were in charge of the education, the people who were in charge of the professional licensing and the college of doctors to work together. But we did. It was a very successful plan. So my plan is to write letters to government suggesting some possible solutions. I hope somebody does something with this idea. There is a real opportunity here – because the people need it. 

Have you been happy to be at Lethbridge College? Has it been a good experience for you?

Yes, I love all the people here. I think they  make you feel like you are part of community. It makes you feel something – a feeling of pertinence, a feeling you belong. I am grateful for the opportunity that Lethbridge College has given me, especially Karen [Smith, Manager, English Language Centre] and my teachers Quentin [Boehr] and Herbert [Claxton]. 

Thanks for sharing your story, Juan Carlos, and for making the Lethbridge College community proud!