Healthcare Hero // Dawn Anderson

As a registered nurse who has been active with the international humanitarian aid efforts of the Red Cross around the globe since 2010, Dawn Anderson routinely encounters danger, tragedy and hardship that is unimaginable to most of us. Yet, despite the enormous risks and significant emotional toll that she undoubtedly faces, Dawn continues to stand strongly alongside some of the world’s most vulnerable, yet bravest people, to bring compassion and care in times of conflict, war and natural disaster. A nursing graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Dawn has travelled to Haiti, Afghanistan, Philippines, Central Africa, Nepal and Palestine to assist in relief efforts and provide essential medical care services. On May 12, it was announced that Dawn was among the thirty-six outstanding nurses from 18 countries who have been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal. This prestigious international award recognizes exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster, along with exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education. SIMS is incredibly pleased to recognize Dawn Anderson as a Healthcare Hero and we were honoured by the opportunity to recently speak with her about her experiences and what motivates her life-saving and life-changing work.  

What inspires you to do the work you do?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help people, although I wasn’t always sure how I was going to do it. As a nurse working in emergency, I would watch the news and witness tragedy after tragedy around the world and I became moved by a deep calling to help the people experiencing this trauma and devastation. It did, and still does, feel like a powerful physical pull to go. I grew up moving around and seeing the world. I lived in Peru and Saudi Arabia and travelled to multiple countries. As I got older and started to travel alone, I couldn’t understand why people asked me if I was scared. Why would I be scared? Humans are humans everywhere in the world; there is no difference, as there is good and bad everywhere. Of course, it is always about being sensible, but I was doing what I wanted and what I believe everyone should – knowing, experiencing and understanding something beyond my own life and reality can open your eyes in very important ways. I see people at their worst in crisis, natural disaster and in conflict, but it is other side – the strength of survival and the humanity in the world under extreme circumstances – that continues to inspire me.

Who influences you?

Growing up, the experiences with my family awakened me to all the amazing differences in the world. These differences are not bad, but beautiful, and I think I get a richer understanding of life by seeing how others live and survive across the globe, under vastly different circumstances. I thank my parents for that opportunity. My family continues to support me no matter where I want to go. I know it is terrifying for them in some cases, but they still find a way to consistently support and encourage me. The people I work with, especially the local staff, inspire and motivate me everyday to keep doing the job. These are amazing people who leave their families and come to work during times of war or natural disaster all in the name of helping others. They show up day after day after day. To me, that is true sacrifice and I only hope that one day I can show the same human spirit. It is always my greatest sorrow to leave a country that is devastated by extreme circumstances, and I can’t bring everyone back with me to a safe and comfortable home like Canada.

What does the future hold?

I am always excited for the future – where my next mission will be, along with what I can learn and see when I am there. It is always a bit of a surprise. I feel very fortunate to do the work I do, because there are so many opportunities and options to work in different capacities in a humanitarian aid context. For example, working in emergency and in pre and post surgery, along with the chance to teach. Earlier this year, Dawn was featured in the Star Phoenix in a powerful and heart-warming article.

It can be found here: Please join us in celebrating and recognizing Dawn for her courage, compassion and conviction in helping to make the world a healthier and safer place.

Drew Simonar