Red Ribbon Award winner Candis Lepage


Fourth-year biology student ditches dreams of wearing a doctor’s white coat for a hazmat suit

Fourth-year honours biology major Candis Lepage (’16) admits that when she first came to Acadia she was very shy but by the time Christmas of her first year arrived she had acquired a whole new family at a school that she says you can just as easily call a home.

Candis Lepage

Candis chose Acadia because it was close, but not too close, to her home in Dartmouth, NS. Her sister had attended a different small university and Candis knew from her that a smaller school would give her the chance to get to know her professors and excel academically. Candis, who will graduate in May 2016 with a minor in Chemistry to complement her BScH in Biology, is evidence that the academic support available from professors leads to great things.

Dr. Todd Smith supervises Candis and his research into blood-based parasites such as those that cause malaria, sparked an interest in Candis to learn more. So, at the end of her second year she surprised everyone, including herself, by spending one-month in Ghana working with HIV/AIDS patients and delivering education programs to women and children from throughout the country. This opened her eyes to the challenges healthcare professionals and others face in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS in parts of the world the cultural stigmas often prevent proper education and open conversations.

“When I came back to Nova Scotia, I connected with the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) because I wanted to make a contribution here at home,” says Candis. “In 2014, I started a CANFAR Campus Club which now has about 50 members and in September 2015 we held the Scotiabank Walk for Life.”

For her efforts, Candis earned the 2015 CANFAR Red Ribbon Award, which recognizes a student, school or university that has demonstrated outstanding leadership and dedication to raising HIV and AIDS awareness in their community. “Candis’ leadership has been extraordinary and we are all very grateful for her efforts,” says Andrea Zeelie-Varga, National Programs Manager for CANFAR. “In their first year, the Acadia campus chapter formed a team for one of our fundraising challenges - and won. They’ve also held a number of social, awareness and fundraising events on campus and Candis has had a strong effect on our other campus clubs. We hold regular calls with the presidents from other campus chapters and Candis is on every call, often doling out advice or sharing stories from her club.”

CANFAR Campus Clubs are tremendously important to the Foundation. Results from CANFAR-funded research projects have global implications. Information and knowledge is shared with the international research community, providing both the industrialized and developing worlds with essential, life-saving medication and treatment methods. To date, CANFAR has invested over $18 million in research projects nationwide. CANFAR-funded researchers have discovered a key component of the drug treatment that is keeping many people alive today; produced findings that have nearly eliminated the risk of HIV transmission between a mother and her baby; and introduced an HIV vaccine candidate that can reduce, and sometimes prevent, HIV progression.

In addition to her research and CANFAR duties, Candis has several other commitments. She is a representative on the Biology Society and has been a volunteer with Acadia’s Sensory Motor Instructional leadership Experience (S.M.I.L.E.) program since her second year. Off campus she works in the blood collection clinic at the local Eastern Kings Memorial Health Clinic and in the emergency room at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville.  

“From a young age, I wanted to be doctor,” says Candis. “While I was in Ghana I had access to patients who also had tuberculosis so now I’m more interested in infectious diseases. Dr. Smith has given me a great opportunity here at Acadia and I’m in the midst of applying to a graduate program in epidemiology. However, I no longer want to be a doctor with a private practice, I want to practice medicine on a global scale. I want to be involved in work that has a broader purpose — I want to be in a hazmat suit, not a white coat.”

Learn more on the CANFAR website.

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