CIRCUMPOLAR HEALTH

Nunatsiavut | Labrador 

 

I was born in Makkovik, an Inuit community on the Labrador coast, and trained as a rural generalist in Labrador's Northern Family Medicine Program (NorFam). 

In the 1980's, fresh from teaching with the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School, my parents moved to Labrador to learn with the people of the north coast. The school's motto ("be tough yet gentle, humble yet bold, swayed always by beauty and truth") still inspires my love for our Arctic home, and its vibrant ecologies and peoples. 

Trained as a physician and anthropologist, I explore how the conditions of everyday life shape our health. Every clinical story has a social story, and discovering these stories is essential for building a healthy society. I'll be sharing some of them here through writing, radio, and photography, to inspire a better understanding our lives in Inuit Nunaat, the Inuit homeland. 


Nunavut 

I currently work as a Senior Advisor with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents over 17,000 Inuit from 13 communities across the many islands of the Arctic archipelago, from Sanikiluaq and Baffin Island to the islands of the High Arctic.

As part of this practice, I've committed to learning the South Qikiqtaaluk dialect of Inuktitut spoken in southern Baffin Island, and am slowly but surely embarrassing and endearing myself with my attempts at learn this beautiful and living language. 

Click the photos to the left to explore some of my favourites from life in Nunavut, and visit the Pirurvik CentreTusaalanga, and Inuktitut Ilinniaqta to join me in learning to speak Inuktitut.


Kalaallit Nunaat | Greenland

 As part of the expedition teams of Students On Ice and Adventure Canada since 2016, I’ve worked with brilliant teams of Inuit youth, educators, scientists, diplomats and elders on seven expeditions to western and northern Greenland.   

We've visited the Greenlandic qajaq schools that helped spark the revival of this awesome Inuit tradition; discovered Thule/Inuit sites new to the archeological record; taught wilderness medicine with glacial mountains as our classroom; and studied climate change at the Illulisat Icefjord, witnessing the greatest glacier in the northern hemisphere calve icebergs into the North Atlantic, it's slow motion retreat suddenly speeding into reality. Explore with us by reading my expedition fieldnotes, or by joining us on expedition with Students On Ice or Adventure Canada


Western Arctic

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In 2009 I moved to Aklavik, Northwest Territories, to begin a year and a half of research on social determinants of health in remote northern communities. 

Aklavik, "place of the barren ground grizzly", is a community of 600 on the Peel River, which flows north to the Beaufort Sea in the shadow of the Richardson Mountains and Yukon's north slope. 

What started as a graduate project in anthropology became a transformative journey, exploring the culture and ecology of the northwest, and learning about the conditions of everyday life in the Western Arctic.

From first questions to final report, our project was designed with Inuvialuit and Gwitch'in community members through the Aklavik Health Committee. Interviews, group meetings, and participant observation helped us better understand how people in this community of 600 people think about health. We learned that people in Aklavik think upstream - recognizing food security, housing costs, and cultural survival as the forces most affecting their health. 

This project was supported by the Inuvialuit and Gwitch'in governments, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research.


UPSTREAM MEDICINE

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A new generation of Canadian doctors are looking upstream to treat sickness at its source, working alongside patients to change the conditions that make them sick, and create healthier communities.

In the spring of 2017, my friends Ryan Meili, Christopher Charles, Mahli Brindamour and I edited a collection celebrating Upstream Medicine, published through UBC Press

Upstream thinking draws on a helpful metaphor: instead of standing downstream trying to help all those drowning in a river, why not head upstream to find out why people fall in, and work together to solve problems at their source? This thinking reframes the way we approach the practice of medicine, politics, and how to build a healthier society.

"Alleviating suffering and treating patients, whether in a physician’s office or an emergency room, can be a matter of prescribing medication or staunching a bleeding wound. But every clinical story has a social story, and patients who present with acute medical problems or a chronic disease often describe the everyday life conditions that made them sick in the first place. These stories are often about where they work, live, and play, and about their income, food security, and housing.

Doctors are now listening. More than this, they are working with their patients and communities to address the root causes of illness at their sources. Upstream Medicine features interviews by medical students and residents with leading Canadian physicians whose practices bring evidence-based, upstream ideas to life. Their personal stories and patient encounters illuminate the social determinants of health – the conditions that lead to good health and long lives or to more complex, painful, and expensive downstream medical problems later on. By transforming how we imagine the practice of medicine, this book will help us build a healthier society."

The book was created as a collaboration with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, and Upstream, a movement to create a healthy society through evidence-based, people centred ideas. Learn more by visiting www.thinkupstream.net.


GLOBAL HEALTH

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Health equity is the heart of global health. In 2013-14, I was elected by my peers across Canada to represent them on matters of health equity, as CFMS Vice President - Global Health.

As VP Global Health, I directed the CFMS Global Health Program with a brilliant team of medical students from across Canada, designing two national lobby days on Parliament Hill for social housing and a national pharmacare program, leading delegations of Canadian medical students to meetings in Canada, Tunisia, and Taiwan, and meeting medical students in the Lebanon-Syrian border region, home to the worst refugee crisis of the 21st century. 

In 2014, we joined with Partners In Health (Canada) to support the design and ongoing delivery of post-graduate medical education programs for new doctors in Haiti and Rwanda.

"I am heartened to know that students in the CFMS Global Health Program are our partners in the fight for health equity and social justice. You promote global health education, sexual and reproductive health, Indigenous health, and global health advocacy in Canada and around the world. Thank you for your commitment and solidarity, and thank you for being my retirement plan." 

- Dr. Paul Farmer,  MD, PhD, co-founder of PIH, Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

"we go. we make house calls. we build health systems. we stay."