By: Michelle George, MSc. Candidate in Community Health and Epidemiology
Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with the director of Dalhousie Global Health, Shawna O’Hearn. During her tenure, she has expanded the work of the office which was solely on international electives for medical students to an office that leads social accountability initiatives that include international collaborations, diversity and inclusion, community engagement and global health education. Her role as the director is diverse, and as she so aptly put it “no two days are the same”. Taking a strategic leadership role, she guides programs to success, works with donors to support new initiatives, and collaborates across the university to ensure diversity and inclusion are integrated across policies, programs and curriculum. She also leads national committees on social accountability and global health to expand Dalhousie’ reach outside the Maritimes.
Since Shawna has been leading Dalhousie Global Health for over a decade, I was interested in how this experience has impacted her career and her view of global health. Shawna’s academic career includes a MA in International Development which allowed her to work in India, Caribbean and West Africa on community development and education programs with universities and non-profit organizations. It wasn’t until she worked in Nunavut as the Director of Policy for the Department of Education that she began to see the connections between her work in the global south and northern Canada which was guided through the framework of the determinants of health. This work led her to become an Occupational Therapist so she could also make connections between education and health in the community. These experiences were foundational in her arrival to Dalhousie and the expansion of an international portfolio to an office that works beyond borders guided by social accountability.
Her view of global health emphasizes the importance of interprofessional and interdisciplinary lenses when looking at health. Shawna recognizes that voices from inside and outside the academy bring a richer and deeper understanding of global health.
To make sure voices of communities are heard Shawna, and the global health team, collaborate with communities to identify gaps and opportunities for their programs to be meaningful to the communities in which we live, work and serve.
This year will bring new changes and priorities to Dalhousie Global Health and the Faculty of Medicine’s Serving and Engaging Societies portfolio. Shawna is encouraging the team to identify new and innovative ways to deliver programs that engage students and community in a virtual environment. She anticipates that the November 5 panel on “Global health beyond 2020” will create a new and relevant focus for our work as we move forward in these changing and unprecedented times. She believes that a key to this success is inclusivity which requires the right people at the table, listening, being sensitive to power and privilege, and being okay with the uncomfortableness that change will bring. This holistic lens of looking at health equity is what Dalhousie Global Health, with Shawna and her team, represent.