Dr. Kathy Yamashita (BASc '72) puts a new twist on the saying that good things come in small packages. Yamashita is a firm believer that it is also good to come from small places.
Her experience growing up in the small town of Vauxhall had a profound effect on the direction of her career.
"I was influenced by our family doctor, Dr. Campbell. Over the years he got to know our family well. I was impressed that when I would go to see him he would also ask about the welfare of other members of my family. I thought that if I was ever a doctor, I would like to be like that," explains Yamashita.
In 1968, Yamashita enrolled at a very young University of Lethbridge. She attended her first three years of classes at the University's temporary site on the Lethbridge Junior College campus.
"I was shy and the thought of going away to a university was too frightening. To have the University open up in Lethbridge one year before I graduated high school, where I could come and live with my aunt for the first year was a big plus," remembers Yamashita. "Sometime during my second or third year, I realized I couldn't attend the University forever. I considered the professions; at that time it was uncommon for a woman to go into medicine, but I had gained confidence in my academic abilities and I thought, 'why can't I go into medicine'?"
Yamashita spent her fourth year of studies preparing for medical school, taking biology and chemistry classes in the newly constructed University Hall.
"It was wonderful! You even got to take an elevator to class," laughs Yamashita as she remembers how tightknit the University community was. "My brother and I both lived in residence. He was in his second year and would frequently forget to wake up for Paul Lewis' parasitology class. One day Paul took his other students and they went to my brother's room, woke him up and had class there. You see, in those early days, only about five or six years of age separated us from our professors. They were a big source of our social gatherings. They would have us to dinner or hang out with us at corn roasts; it was a very collegial atmosphere."
She graduated with a BASc in 1972 and was accepted to the University of Calgary medical school, which opened its doors only two years earlier. She was one of 35 students who graduated from the U of C medical school in 1975.
"I came from a small school in Vauxhall to a small university to an even smaller medical school. It is good to come from small; you cannot be ignored. Being from small, you are encouraged to be yourself. You can't hide in the back row. Someone will always ask you what you think and expect you to speak. So, being shy? Well, I am no longer shy. It was encouraging to be from small, where your voice is important."
In 1978, Yamashita opened the Lacidem Clinic in Lethbridge as the lone physician. She now works with five other female physicians who all specialize in family practice. Over the years, Yamashita has spent countless hours volunteering for various organizations and boards, including the LRH Sexual Assault Response Team (of which she is an original member), Canyon Church Camp and the University Senate.
Despite her busy schedule, Yamashita believes in making friends and loved ones a priority. She recently returned home from Durban, South Africa, where she went to cheer on her nephew, U of L lifeguard Jon Yamashita, at the Commonwealth Lifesaving Championship, and to catch up with good friend Helga Holst, CEO of the McCord Hospital. While there, she attended an HIV conference and toured the hospital and the construction site of a unique orphanage designed as a children's village, a place for the children, orphaned due to the HIV crisis, to call home.
"I think I am meant to do something with that experience, but I don't know what yet," says Yamashita who, in the meantime, will continue her work with young people that are considering a career in the medical field.
"I teach first and second-year family medicine residents and third-year medical students. I have other students that come and job shadow me at family medicine as well. I want students to see how much fun this is and what a great career this is. It is a joy to do my job!"
GET THE FACTS
· Yamashita is a very proud mother of two daughters
· She is proud to call the University of Lethbridge her family's "home university". She has five siblings and all have attended the U of L
· Yamashita was a 2004 recipient of the University of Lethbridge Distinguished Alumni Award
· She is currently serving as the secretary for the South Alberta Presbytery and is the editor of the Kyogikai Newsletter for the National Japanese United Church Association