Born in Quebec City on November 4, 1965 to a Chinese immigrant family, Joanne Liu decided to become a pediatrician at an early age. When she was thirteen, she became fascinated by Et la Paix dans le monde docteur, a book about the experiences of a doctor working with Doctors Without Borders during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. This sparked her interests in both medicine and humanitarian work and during junior college, she travelled to Mali with Canadian Crossroads International.
At McGill University she specialized in medicine, then in pediatrics at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine hospital. She had a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine from New York University School and earned a master’s in Health Leadership from McGill University.
At age 31, Liu started her career with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), working with Malian refugees in Mauritania. From 1999 to 2002, Liu was a programs manager at the Paris office of MSF. She then went on to work as the president of the board of directors of MSF in Canada between 2004 and 2009.
As a doctor with MSF, she has responded to dozens of humanitarian crises: the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; a cholera epidemic in Haiti; and Somali refugees in Kenya, to name a few. She has worked in many conflict zones, including Palestine, the Central African Republic, and Sudan’s Darfur region. She helped to develop one of the first programs to offer comprehensive medical care for survivors of sexual violence in the Republic of the Congo. Dr. Liu also helped create the telemedicine project, which connects MSF physicians at 150 sites with more than 300 medical specialists around the world. This gives MSF field doctors rapid access to critical diagnosis and treatment recommendations. And while working with MSF from 2002-2013, Liu also served as a full-time pediatric emergency physician in Montreal.
Liu was elected as the international president of MSF in 2013 and was reelected in 2016.
Written by Nicole Hutchison