Transforming health care in Canada

Transforming health care in Canada

Dean Jane Philpott discusses her vision, outlined in a new book, for rebuilding our health system so that it provides primary care access for everyone.

By Communications Staff

April 4, 2024


Health for All book cover

Dean Philpott's book will be released April 9.

Every great transformation starts with a big idea. Jane Philpott, Dean, Queen’s Health Sciences, Director, School of Medicine, and CEO of the Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization, is sharing one that she hopes will change health care in Canada for the better.

Dean Philpott has written a new book, Health for All: A Doctor’s Prescription for a Healthier Canada (available on April 9) that outlines her vision for rebuilding our health system to provide primary care access for everyone. Her book is backed by decades of work in health care, politics, and academia and leans into some of the personal and professional experiences that have shaped her urgent call for action.

The Queen's Gazette sat down with Dean Philpott to learn more about the impetus for the book and her vision, as well as some of her thoughts about health care transformation, current policy, and politics.  

Your book argues that we should build a strong foundation of primary care for all. In it, you outline a very compelling vision.

Well, the book is a bit unusual in that it describes a very specific policy solution on how to improve the health of the country by ensuring a primary care home for everyone. Even though there is an early emphasis on that, I also thought it was important to dig deeper and explain why I believe strongly in that conclusion.  

My personal experiences as family doctor working in Canada and Niger, as a politician and cabinet minister, as a mother, as a person of faith, and as a health sciences dean have all helped shape my conviction that everybody in our country, and ideally, everybody in the world should have a fair chance to achieve the highest attainable standard of well-being and health. I believe we can do a lot better than we’re doing now and I hope this can be a road map that will help get us closer.  

How can we get beyond the current boundaries and territorial thinking in governments?  

I use a metaphor repeatedly in this book that we have built a system for public education in this country ensuring that every child has access to a public school. So why can’t we build a system where every person has access to a primary care home? I think the power in this metaphor is that it is an idea that people can grab hold of to finally imagine what a strong primary care system can look like. If every child is assigned to a public school, why can’t everyone be assigned to a health home close to where they live? We’ve been needing an idea like this, one that people can take to leaders and say, ‘this is what we want, this is what works in other countries,’ and ask the question of why we don’t have this in Canada. I want every Canadian to know that there are solutions out there; that this is implementable and affordable; and can truly change the way we do health care.

Similarly, I think there are many people in government who have never believed that we could do things differently. We’ve never put this challenge to ourselves to build a system of primary care for all. I’m really hoping this will land in the hands and minds of people who can do the work to make this possible. Once they see the vision and where we can go, and can all agree on it, I think we can move the levers of power in the direction of making it happen.

How has being Dean of Queen’s Health Sciences (QHS) influenced your vision of ‘health for all?'  

I would say it has taught me many things. One of the big pieces is understanding what it takes for a health system to function. I had seen health care from the delivery side; I had seen it from the government side; but so much of what makes health care work is the people. And the people come into the system through places like Queen’s Health Sciences. Once I saw how critical that part of it was, it felt like the final piece of the puzzle in understanding what we need to do.  

What is the role that academic institutions need to play in addressing some of our larger health systems issues?

Academia has a big role to play. We are the place where health professionals are trained and there is no health system without the people behind it. There is so much that can be done differently and better within universities and colleges in how they train the health workforce. Some of what we’ve been doing at QHS are excellent examples of this including the Queen’s Lakeridge Health MD Family Medicine Program that is training more family doctors in an entirely new way, and the Weeneebayko Health Education Campus project that will train Indigenous health professionals. And of course, the new Health Home that will soon be open in Kingston uses the Periwinkle model that I describe in the book. I’m excited to see where that will lead.

Jane Philpott

Dean Philpott's vision is informed by decades of experience in health care, politics, and academia. (Liz Cooper)

Your book emphasizes spiritual health and how hope, purpose, meaning, and belonging are key components of overall wellness. Why do you think these concepts should play a role in health care?

I will be honest, that section of the book makes me the most nervous about how it will land. But I believe it’s important because it is one of the missing ingredients in health care and overall wellness in our country. When I was Minister of Health, I was introduced to the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework by Dr. Carol Hopkins, CEO of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation. It struck such a deep chord in me that I knew I needed to share it with others. I feel like we’ve tried to run health care without a soul. That is the essence of hope, belonging, meaning and purpose which form the core of the Framework. I’m curious to see what people think of it, and if nothing else, it may highlight what might be missing from how we’re doing things now.  

Your book describes a “prescription” of sorts for politics and political discourse.  

We need to attract a broader range of people into politics because currently what we see is not healthy. It is toxic and difficult. The people who can change the culture of politics currently are staying away from it—and we need them so badly. I hope some of the ideas here will resonate, and more people will consider putting themselves in a position of political leadership in some way. I think the phenotype that exists now only represents a small portion of the way the public thinks and works. There are so many reasonable, compassionate, thoughtful, quiet, and empathetic people out there who could contribute so much, and I hope they will decide that’s where they belong.

You have had an amazing career so far—albeit with twists and turns—that has seen you make a tremendous impact on society on top of saving lives. What advice would you give to someone just starting a career in health care?

I hope that many new health professionals will read the book. I’m curious to hear what they think about it. I think they will see from my somewhat circuitous path that there isn’t just one way to have an impact in health care. But you do need to know what you’re aiming for overall. My purpose is to improve people’s health, and I discovered that there are many ways to do that. So, if you get diverted off that path—don’t despair—just find another way. You can still aim for your purpose.  

For people currently working in health care, what do you hope they will take away from your book?

I want them to believe things can be better and what they do really matters. I hope that they will find at least small ways to impact the local area that they’re working in to make it run more effectively and not to despair.

To close, what is the next chapter for you? Any plans for a second book?

I don’t have any plans to write another book, at the moment. I am really committed to this vision of making sure that our country has access to primary care for everyone. So, every day of my working life in the future is going to be somehow connected with that vision of making sure that every single person in this country has a primary care home.  

Read an excerpt from “Health for All: A Doctor’s Prescription for a Healthier Canada”.  

Find out about book tour events, including Dean Philpott’s dates in Kingston (April 8), Ottawa (April 9), Calgary (April 12), and Toronto (April 25)

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