How a dental surgery led to advocacy, media attention and an MPH degree at Lakehead University

Having completed an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences, Specialization in Sociology (2007-2009) and a 3 year General Bachelor of Social Sciences, Minor in Sociology (2004-2007) at the University of Ottawa, public health was not on my list of career options. Public health chose me. The one thing that I knew when I was completing my undergraduate studies was that I wanted a career with the Government of Canada. Having worked as a student under the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), I was determined to network with as many managers, analysts or HR contacts as possible. I consistently read the internal/external job postings for related jobs of interest and contacted the indicated individual(s) on the job poster. I highlighted that I was completing my degree, was close to graduation, had worked under the FSWEP and that I was looking for bridging opportunities at the EC level. Students who work in the Government under the FSWEP are also eligible for bridging into full-time positions. This made me very determined to find an opportunity.

My job search efforts were a success and I was offered a permanent position through the FSWEP student bridging at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). I started out working in HIV/AIDS enhanced surveillance followed by travel and migration health and West Nile virus surveillance. While infectious disease was not a passion, travel and migration health was definitely a file I enjoyed working on. I learned so many new perspectives of public health that I had never considered when travelling abroad; for example, visiting a travel health clinic which was an aspect that even I as a traveller had never considered. In between my career at PHAC, I have also had the opportunity to work at other departments such as Public Works and Government Services Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Presently, I am working at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada as a policy analyst.

Fall 2014 brought on a new adventure for me. As a patient of Dr. Kevin Butterfield, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, (Chief, Division of Dentistry/Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, The Ottawa Hospital), I became aware that these surgeons are unable to order MRIs for their patients outside of a hospital setting. While they can order MRIs for hospital inpatients, they cannot order an MRI when a patient visits and seek treatment in a private practice clinic. Dr. Butterfield referred me to my family physician who then put in the requisition to the hospital for an MRI of my jaw. I found this to be a waste of my time of having to jump through hoops when my OMFS was more than qualified to know that his patients needed an MRI. As such, on my own initiative, I started volunteering my time to advocate for change in Ontario.

Having experienced the above scenario, twice, I set out to explore and understand the regulations for dentists in other provinces and territories across Canada. I discovered that Ontario is the only province where dental surgeons are not allowed to order MRIs for their patients in private practice clinics. As such, patients must visit his or her family physician, who would then submit the referral for the MRI. This, as you can imagine, can bring on challenges, especially for patients who do not have a family physician. As you can see, this loophole in the practice regulations creates a number of other issues both for patients and the profession.

The more I learned about this regulation loophole in Ontario, the more passionate I became about the issue and wanted to see a change happen. I sent emails to my local MPP, the Ontario health critics and the Minister of Health & Long-Term Care. After having a conversation with a staff member in MPP Gelinas’ office, he encouraged me to write a petition and obtain a minimum of 10 signatures. Once a petition is tabled into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Government of Ontario has to issue a response. I set out on my journey to write a petition, while obtaining over 200 signatures from patients in the Ottawa region. The petition was tabled into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Fall 2015. Around the same time that I was also trying to gain the attention of my local MPP, but was facing challenges in obtaining a response from them. As a result, I wrote an email expressing my disappointment in their support which led to a fiery response back from one of the MPP staffs. Sure enough, this incident picked up some media awareness.

In Spring 2016, Dr. Butterfield and I had a face to face meeting with MPP John Fraser (also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health). This meeting provided the opportunity to raise the issues and challenges with the regulation limitation in Ontario and facilitate knowledge and information sharing. What I learned is that change takes time, especially in a bureaucracy. There are so many processes and steps to follow for a policy change to take place. I continue to advocate for this issue and follow up with MPP Fraser’s office from time to time to request a status update on our issue to see if any progress has been made.

With this experience, and my own realization of wanting to further a career in public health, I became motivated to apply for a Master of Public Health. I applied to Lakehead University and University of Victoria because these MPH programs are available online and offered flexibility so that I could continue with a full time employment; and not have to move away from my community. My application to Victoria was rejected while I was accepted to Lakehead. I commenced my studies in Fall 2015.

I am now in my final year at Lakehead and am enjoying the program so far. I recently added on a specialization in Indigenous and Northern Health to my MPH because I felt that this would be an asset to my career, especially with the high profile nature this file has with governments, the media and across Canada.

I do not know where my career will take me following my MPH as it is too early to tell, but I hope it is to an exciting organization where I can use technology, innovation and my knowledge and skills to further advance health and health care for Canadians and build synergies for the future! Even if I do not wind up working in the health field, the courses that I have taken are valuable and the learning experiences will translate into any field.


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