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Getting to know Dean Jane Philpott

This story was originally published in the Queen's Gazette. 

Jane Philpott was announced as the new dean of the Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Director of the School of Medicine in February, and she started in her new role on July 2, after the completion of Richard Reznick’s term as dean. An accomplished physician and educator who has also held senior cabinet positions in the Government of Canada, Dr. Philpott brings a wealth of experience to the Queen’s community. Now that she has started her term, the Queen’s Gazette connected with Dr. Philpott to learn more about her plans for her new role and how she’ll be drawing on her previous experience in healthcare and government.

You started your term as dean on July 2. What did you do in the lead up to help prepare yourself for your new role?

These past few months have been very interesting. Dr. Reznick generously planned a substantial orientation program for me. We had intended that most of it would be an in-person orientation where I would come to Kingston and have several days of meetings with key individuals to learn more about the faculty’s files, but it’s turned out that almost of all of that has had to be done virtually. Nevertheless, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of people in the faculty as well as at the university and have been very well prepared for the challenges and opportunities facing the faculty.

The pandemic has changed all of our lives over the last number of months and I will also be beginning my term under an unusual set of circumstances that will affect students, faculty, and the whole environment. But the university and the Faculty of Health Sciences have done a huge amount of work and preparation, and I’ll be happy to step in and continue that good work.

What attracted you to the role of dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences? What was appealing about Queen’s?

To be dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s is an amazing honour. It really brings together all the things I love to do, especially working with others to improve people’s health and people’s lives. As a clinician you can do a lot to help people be healthier. But I’ve actually discovered that as an academic, whether a research or an educator, you can do that and more.

I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work in a faculty that includes three different schools: medicine, nursing, and rehabilitation therapy. I think this is a perfect model for training health professionals. I have found over time that in an interprofessional faculty like this you can have a very significant impact. Not just for patients one-by-one at the bedside, but actually on a whole generation of health professionals. I’m very excited to work alongside the rest of our faculty members to continue the great legacy in the Faculty of Health Sciences of training the very best quality of health professionals for the Kingston area and well beyond.

I’m also drawn to Queen’s because I’ve had a number of different connections to the university over the years. I haven’t had the privilege of studying here myself, although many of my family members have. In fact, two of my daughters have been Queen’s students. One is a graduate of the Queen’s family medicine program and another is here as a kinesiology student right now.

Queen’s is well situated to continue to demonstrate how an academic institution like a university can work with a fantastic set of healthcare organizations for the benefit of the whole community. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area over my adult life, and I’m really looking forward to living in Kingston and being able to have a direct role in the Queen’s community.

You have a wide range of experience in medicine, education, and government. How do you expect these past experiences to influence your approach to your work as dean?

First and foremost, as a health educator, it is really helpful to have frontline experience. I’m really proud to be a family doctor and to have spent the biggest part of my professional life working on the front lines with families. This work has helped me understand that all the things that we teach have an impact not only on the individual patient but on their whole family and the network they represent. Understanding the patient’s perspective is going to be really helpful in my work, and I will never lose sight of it.

My experience in government is something that I’m happy to be able to bring to this new role. Working in the government helped me to understand how decisions are made and also how the postsecondary education sector fits into the bigger picture of the province and the country. I think that experience will lend significant insight into how we can accomplish even more as a university than we have in the past.

Through my government work, I also had the opportunity to travel widely in the country, including to remote communities that most Canadians don’t get to see. That experience will add a real flavour to the work that I do at Queen’s. It can be very easy for us to get focused on the parts of the world that we can see easily in front of us. But at Queen’s we are training people who could work anywhere in Canada or anywhere in the world. Having seen many parts of the world where healthcare is not as good as it should be, I believe those lessons will be beneficial to our students and faculty.

Along the same lines, one of your roles in the Government of Canada was minister of Indigenous services. Will that experience inform your work on equity and diversity issues at Queen’s?

The issues around equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility are at the forefront of Canadians’ minds right now. We’ve all experienced the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks. And it has brought to mind other vulnerable populations, including Indigenous peoples. I spent a large part of my time over the last five years learning more about the day-to-day realities of life for Indigenous peoples in this country, both through my role as minister of health as well as minister of Indigenous services. We have a lot to do as Canadians to address the very serious socioeconomic gaps that exist between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. Indigenous peoples also face shorter life expectancies and higher rates of many diseases. These are issues that the Faculty of Health Sciences has to take into serious consideration, as an organization dedicated to improving health and educating health professionals.

We also know that certain populations have been underrepresented in the Faculty of Health Sciences, particularly in the School of Medicine. Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are two groups that, historically, haven’t been well-represented. This year in the faculty, we had a higher number of Indigenous students than usual, which is a step in the right direction. But there is still work to be done to ensure that we intentionally address the structural barriers that exist for admission to our programs.

Queen’s is well placed to play a proactive role in ensuring that we are a welcoming community and that we represent the diversity of Canadians within our faculty and student body. We also want to use the opportunities and the partnerships that are already in place to go out and serve in areas of the country that don’t have access to the level of care that we do in Kingston. There is already a fantastic partnership that has existed for decades between the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Moose Factory community. There are opportunities to expand on that partnership and maybe even build more.

As you begin your term, do you have a sense of what goals you would like to accomplish as dean?

There are a number of goals that I have on my mind. I, of course, want to work alongside the team that is here to solidify a vision of what can and should be accomplished over the next five years. As I was just saying, one of my areas of focus will be issues of equity and justice as they relate to health.

I also want to see an expansion of the research footprint of the faculty. Dr. Reznick has already done a lot of work on this, with much success. We have a fantastic group of researchers in the Faculty of Health Sciences who are leading important projects and I know that there’s an appetite among students and faculty to take this even further. We need to ensure that we have adequate resources to expand the work we’re already doing in areas like cancer research, cardiopulmonary research, and neurosciences. I want to make sure that we share the things that we’re learning as widely as we can, so that the strengths of the researchers at Queen’s will be shared with the rest of the country and beyond.

The third area I have an interest in is health systems. Queen’s is perfectly positioned to demonstrate with our health care partners the best model of a well-integrated, regional health system – in part because we are an interprofessional faculty that trains nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists, so we are by nature skilled at working in teams. There’s an amazing organization connected to the Queen’s community called the Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization (SEAMO), which I will be leading as well. That connection sets us up with a close relationship between an academic institution and clinical organizations. Together, SEAMO and Queen’s, along with partners like Kingston Health Sciences, Providence Care and others, are already showing what a high-functioning health system looks like. We can work to make it even better with the goal of ensuring that no one in southeastern Ontario goes without the care they need. 

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