It was Easter Sunday, and Candace McNaughton kept vigil as her teenage patient passed away from brain swelling. The patient’s heartbroken family had been praying for a miraculous recovery, but McNaughton had to realize that freedom from suffering can also be a miracle.
Emergency medicine residents deal with life and death almost daily, yet this patient’s story pulled particularly tight on McNaughton’s heartstrings. As she walked through the hallways of the pediatric ICU with attending physician Geoffrey Fleming, the two comforted each other, acknowledging that they could not fix everything. “It was just solidarity in the moment and recognizing the complexity of the situation,” McNaughton says.
"There is no room for hubris or ego in clinical care, in research, or in life."
In 2020, Fleming passed away from a rare cancer called metastatic cholangiocarcinoma. McNaughton honors him for his kindness in difficult moments. “I will always remember the humanity he brought to every patient room,” she reflects. She strives to exemplify these qualities in her own life.
McNaughton continues to serve others as Fleming served her in their years together at the hospital. She does this through many roles, including as an emergency medicine physician, a researcher, a mother, and a Christian.
When McNaughton began her bachelor’s degree in microbiology at BYU, it seemed normal to her that religious and scientific studies would intersect. She believes the study of medicine coincides very well with the eternities, and she felt inspired to study medicine because she enjoys helping people. McNaughton’s studies took her from BYU to Washington University in St. Louis for medical school, then she went to Vanderbilt University for her residency as well as her master’s and doctorate degrees. She now works as a clinician scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, an academic hospital in Toronto. She lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband and two children.
As a BYU alumna, McNaughton carries on the university motto: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” She says, “This means on a day-to-day basis that every time I meet with a patient, I am in his or her service.” McNaughton believes that since every patient in the emergency department is having one of the worst days of their life, treating each patient respectfully and kindly is as important as any medical treatment.
McNaughton serves in other ways too. She counts the four years she spent serving as a temple worker with her husband as one of her favorite callings. McNaughton says the temple has a large impact on her life, and she contrasts her work in the hospital with her time sitting in a holy place and pondering the eternities. “It seems clear that the Lord expects us to get as much knowledge as we can in this lifetime,” she says. “For me, it’s in science. But for other people, it’s in other disciplines. We’re all complementary.”
McNaughton lives by the proverb: “If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone. If you want to go somewhere far, go together.” She experienced the truth of this proverb firsthand when her daughter with developmental differences was young and childcare plans for her fell apart. Alisha Reynolds, a member of McNaughton’s ward, stepped in as a caregiver to her daughter for nearly a year. This was one of many similar acts of kindness Church members gave to the McNaughton family. “Without the support of my sisters in the gospel, it would have been impossible to raise our family,” McNaughton says. Such support is essential to her as she juggles work and home life.
In the end, McNaughton finds her motivation in human connection and genuine caring. “There is no room for hubris or ego in clinical care, in research, or in life,” McNaughton says. “Through service, especially layered, cumulative service, we can all benefit and grow together.”