During a five-week medical school observership in Tanzania, William Cherniak witnessed startling disparities in health care delivery while visiting more than a dozen public hospitals, nongovernmental organizations and other private facilities. That trip ignited his passion for public health. A subsequent experience in Uganda inspired the launch of a nonprofit, Bridge to Health (BTH).
“Bridge to Health supports the work of a community health organization in Uganda,” explains Cherniak. “We hold medical and dental camps in rural communities that serve thousands of patients.”
Once on the ground in Uganda, BTH’s volunteers start their work in small towns or municipalities. Then they pile into vans, driving for hours to reach poor communities that have practically no access to health care. “Sometimes, we’ll arrive to find hundreds of people waiting in line,” he says.
Cherniak modeled BTH after the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation, or KIHEFO, in Uganda, where he also spent time during medical school. His prior experiences in Tanzania gave him the perspective to realize KIHEFO was uniquely effective in the way it tackled community health.
“I was impressed with the group’s focus on microfinance, maternal health, malnutrition and job training,” Cherniak says. KIHEFO’s work underscored his belief that “in order to fix health, you have to address ignorance and poverty.”
This wisdom led him to cofound BTH. During clinical medicine rotations in Canada, he reconnected with a doctor from Uganda. “Within eight months, we had secured sponsorships and donations, recruited a team of 15 health care professionals and were on the ground in Uganda.”
Having served as executive director since the founding of BTH, Cherniak says he hopes the Bloomberg School will help him further the nonprofit’s mission.
“We want to expand Bridge to Health to partner sites around the world, in places like Ethiopia and India, and to grow the organization.”
CoFounder/Board Chair and Executive Director (Voluntary) – Bridge to Health Medical and Dental; Lecturer – University of Toronto, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Division of Emergency Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor – University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine; Monitoring and Evaluations Specialist – Maple; Medical Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine – The Markham Stouffville Hospital