Dr. Joni Guptill

Acadia University

Caring for the Wider World

While most of us keep our focus on where we live in Nova Scotia, there are those who think about — and act in — the much wider world. Dr. Joni Guptill stands out in that latter category. For more than two decades, the Nova Scotia physician has been active in the Nobel-prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF), including serving as the president of MSF Canada. In that way, Joni has helped save countless lives in distant lands, in addition to looking after patients in her practice here.

Joni Guptill grew up in Halifax and studied science at Acadia University before going on to graduate as an MD from Dalhousie University in 1981. She is currently back in Halifax, but for several years she had a practice in rural New Brunswick. During the 1980s, Joni travelled in Africa to start to know that continent Those visits rekindled a long-held desire to help those in need in foreign lands. In 1990, while undertaking studies on Tropical Medicine in England, Joni met with MSF. The medical aid organization asked her if she was willing to get involved in their work. She enthusiastically agreed, and opened an Atlantic Canada office for MSF that same year. Not long after, she went with to provide medical aid in Somalia. Over the next two decades, Dr. Joni Guptill served in five emergency MSF missions – in Turkey, Somalia, China, Syria/Iraq and South Sudan — to help out during famines, floods or wars.

Here is Dr. Joni Guptill recounting just one of those missions: “In South Sudan, we were helping people we knew were death-bound with meningitis. When you see a mother in a remote area who has end-stage meningitis and five children; and you know that treating her is going to save her and, consequently, help the survival of those children. . .well, that’s why we do it. Once you’ve done a project like that, you know you’re doing the right thing.”