Canada’s top doctor to Dal profs behind mini‑course on stigma in health care: ‘Brilliant’

- March 3, 2021

Theresa Tam's 2019 report on stigma in Canada's health-care system inspired Dal professors to create a mini-course included in its interprofessional health program offerings. (Public Health Agency of Canada photo)
Theresa Tam's 2019 report on stigma in Canada's health-care system inspired Dal professors to create a mini-course included in its interprofessional health program offerings. (Public Health Agency of Canada photo)

To say Dr. Theresa Tam is busy these days would be an understatement. As Canada's Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO), Dr. Tam has led Canada’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past year and advised governments across the country as they’ve worked to handle the response.

Despite her packed schedule, Dr. Tam recently took the time to send kudos and a personal thank you to Sherry Huybers, a faculty member in Dal's School of Health and Human Performance, for her work with Dal colleagues last year to create a mini-course inspired by Dr. Tam's 2019 report on addressing stigma in the health system.

Dr. Huybers, an Interprofessional Health Education (IPHE) coordinator and instructor, and Barbara Hamilton-Hinch, an assistant professor (and soon-to-be assistant vice‑provost equity and inclusion), worked with their team to develop the course last year during a global pandemic. Addressing Stigma in the Health System attracted close to 120 students from Dalhousie’s Faculties of Health, Medicine and Dentistry and got the attention of the CPHO’s office. The course participants gave rave reviews.

The course was so successful that PHAC colleagues have reported that they would like to see this type of knowledge translation scaled up and expanded to other universities.

"I commend Dalhousie University in their efforts to shine a light on the inequitable impacts arising from the pandemic and championing equity-based solutions that will improve Canada’s ability to respond to future public health emergencies,” said Dr. Tam in the message.

At the conclusion of the mini-course, Dr. Huybers sent a report with the participant survey results to her colleague Donna Malone, a senior advisor for the Atlantic Region of the Public Health Agency of Canada. Ms. Malone forwarded the information in turn to Dr. Tam’s office as a follow-up. Ms. Malone reported that her CPHO co-workers in Ottawa passed on that the news generated much excitement in their office about the initiative and that when Dr. Tam was briefed on the mini-course and she responded with, “Brilliant.”

Further reading: Dalhousie plays key role in Nova Scotia's vaccination efforts

The magic of mini-courses

With such positive feedback from the CPHO’s office and Dal students, the IPHE team put together a similar mini-course for the winter semester in which students examine Dr. Tam's latest report, 2020's From Risk to Resilience: An equity approach to COVID-19.

Dr. Tam was pleased to learn that Dal had already launched a course based on that report and passed on a message to the health, medicine and dentistry students who had taken the course.

“I am excited that Dalhousie University has created this course to explore my 2020 annual report, ‘From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19’. I am confident that our community, led by younger generations such as yourselves, will rise to the challenge to advance public health and health equity with dedication, compassion, and excellence. I thank you as Chief Public Health Officer of Canada for your interest in the health field,” she wrote.

Dal mini-courses offer health faculty students an opportunity for interprofessional learning outside of their program curriculum.

The concept for the initial course arose from a meeting held with Dr. Tam in fall 2019, hosted by Sara Kirk, scientific director of Dal's Healthy Populations Institute (HPI).

“During the meeting with Dr. Tam, her report on stigma and the health system came up,” explains Dr. Huybers. “Her office wants people to read the report — especially students in the health programs as it is very relevant information for them to have.”

Population health impact

Dr. Huybers and team designed the mini-courses to introduce students to health inequalities and inequities in context, stigma as a public health issue, and building an inclusive health system. The goal is to have students gain an understanding of stigma drivers and practices and learn about interventions and promising practices.

Some populations in Canada such as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and African, Caribbean, and Black Canadians, among others, experience a disproportionate burden of poor health outcomes. When these poor health outcomes are a result of unfair conditions they are referred to as health inequities. One of the drivers of health inequities is stigma.

The initial last year course covered stigma issues in health care faced by marginalized populations, as well as people living with obesity. “It was quite inclusive in including people living with obesity,” said Dr. Huybers.

“Dr. Tam’s 2019 report really feeds into the other IPHE mini-courses we offer,” Dr. Huybers explained. “Dr. Kirk leads a mini-course specifically on weight bias in health care [Interprofessional Client‑centred Approaches to Reduce Weight Bias and Stigma] and Dr. Hamilton Hinch facilitates a mini-course on the barriers African Canadians face in accessing equitable health care [Centering Black Canadian Health]. Addressing Stigma in the Health System was a good pre-cursor to those and other courses.”


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