30 Under 30: Christina Mackaill

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Christina Mackaill, Junior doctor (26), born in Edinburgh, lives in Dundee

For Christina Mackaill the sky is definitely not the limit, as she is well on her path to becoming a space doctor or Scotland’s first female astronaut!

The 26-year-old from Edinburgh is currently working in A&E in Dundee after studying biomedical science in Aberdeen and then Medicine in Glasgow, and she hopes to follow the Flight Surgeon path to save lives during space missions. Yes, you heard it right, saving lives during space missions (all I can think of now is Ripley from the Alien franchise)! How badass is that?

Christina founded Scotland’s first Space Medicine Society in 2016, which has since become a global partner of InnovaSpace, alongside the International Space Medicine Consortium, the Italian Mars Society, UK Space Labs and many others – basically all the big names in space medicine!

Last summer she led a research project at the Microgravity Centre in Brazil under the supervision of one of the world’s leading space doctors, Thais Russomano. She presented the results of this research, including the pioneering Mackaill-Russomano Method for performing CPR on the surface of the moon and Mars (see the photo: HOW COOL IS THAT?), in front of some top names in the space field including chief medical officers from NASA and ESA, as well as various astronauts.

She also spent a month working in one of the America’s busiest trauma units, and she wrote about her experience of treating up to 10 gunshots injuries every day, and the sobering reality of how many lives are tragically lost to guns in America.

If all of this wasn’t enough for one human being, Christina has also raised thousands of pounds for charity over the years. She takes part in Tough Mudder (she will be doing her 5th TM in 2018), Live Below The Line, and used to volunteer at a homeless shelter for asylum seekers in Glasgow. Earlier this year she became one the recipients of the Young Scots of the Year award, she also won a Cappel Award for her research, and was voted the 38th female student to watch in the UK by The Tab.

Okay, so I have to admit that I just looked up who was the medical officer in Alien movies, and like I vaguely remembered it was an android (called Ash to trigger your memory too). If you’re wondering how on earth (pun intended) Christina managed to achieve all of this without being a robot that doesn’t need to sleep or eat, I’ll leave you with this: she admits she loves doing karaoke and does a terrible rendition of Wuthering Heights, and she fainted during a skydive.

Definitely a human then. Just an amazing one!

IN HER OWN WORDS…

What’s your proudest achievement?

In the summer of 2016, I arranged to go to Brazil and carry out a research project at the Microgravity Centre under the supervision of one of the world’s leading space doctors, Thais Russomano. The research was concerning CPR in hypogravity (i.e. CPR on The Moon and Mars), and finding the most effective method before sending people to Mars in the future.

During the study, we played around with some ideas and co-developed a method that could potentially have more promising results than the standard CPR method used on Earth. We trialled it in the study and the results showed that it was the more effective method for performing CPR in simulated hypogravity. I went on to present this research in May 2017 at the Aerospace Medical Association’s 88th Scientific Meeting in Denver in front of some of the most intimidatingly intelligent and outstanding people in the space field.

Standing up there and presenting my own research in front of astronauts, chief medical officers at NASA, ESA and other space agencies from around the globe was something I only imagined doing in my wildest dreams. I enjoyed every single second of it and afterwards I got to network with astronauts and NASA flight surgeons, some of whom had been to the ISS themselves or who were responsible for the wellbeing of the astronauts in space previously or in upcoming missions – so it was beyond amazing being in their company.

They were all very encouraging and opened several doors for me, and I left feeling incredibly inspired to become a flight surgeon in the future – or even the first Scotswoman in space!

What women inspire you?

My grandmother was the most inspirational woman I knew, and the woman I aspire to be. She grew up through a war, spoke 9 languages, was an inspiring educator, and went on to become a wonderful grandmother. She was always bright, warm and kind to everyone she met, even in the face of adversity.

In the final year of her life, she courageously battled stage 4 cancer with a smile on her face. She was stoic, graceful and positive until the very end, and never asked for anything or complained once despite the arduous battle she was fighting. I would like to become a fraction of the inspirational woman that she was with a shred of her kindness, compassion, intelligence, wisdom and above all the fortitude and grace that she seemed to resonate every day.

My mother and maternal grandmother are also remarkable women, and have also been positive role models in my life growing up. I would not be where I am without the support and guidance of all of these wonderful women in my family.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in the next 10 years?

I would like to see them becoming recognised and praised for their achievements, and becoming leaders in their respective fields. I would like them to have the self-confidence to achieve great things and never downplay their accomplishments. I would like to see a change in how girls, families and society imagine what girls can be and what girls can do. I think we should also be encouraging girls and women into non-traditional vocations, and breaking social taboos.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

We should teach girls that they are equal from day one, and give them positive female role models from an early age to motivate them to follow their dreams. Women should not have stunted ambitions and should be encouraged to take risks. Women should not be afraid to be leaders and express their opinions and views.

Men should also be pro-active in shattering the glass ceiling, not only because they have a mother, sister, daughter or wife; but because feminism is about equality and treating women as human beings. There needs to be self-confidence and self-belief in women to accomplish their goals and campaign for equal rights in all aspects of their lives, and above all we need to support one another.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

Amelia Earheart, Katherine Johnson, Bridget Jones.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

Take risks. Dream big. Set yourself goals and don’t be down-heartened if at first you don’t succeed. Believe in yourself. Express yourself. Emanate your passion. Be a leader. Break the social taboos. Be the change you want to see in the world. Advocate for women’s rights. Support one another. And remember – the sky is not the limit!

Pictures courtesy of Christina Mackaill – Picture 1 shows Christina with her grandma and granny, picture 2 shows Christina with JD Polk, the Chief Medical Officer for NASA, at the 88th Aerospace Medical Association Scientific Meeting in May, picture 3 is Christina doing CPR at the microgravity lab in Brazil and picture 4 is Christina with astronaut Michael Barratt, who spent 211 days on the International Space Station and completed 2 EVAS (spacewalks).


You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature a different finalist every day throughout November.

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