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Connie Clement: Reflections of a public health leader

January 13, 2017

Connie Clement, our NCCDH Scientific Director, was recently profiled among Canadian public health leaders in an interview published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

The interview is part of a series intended to capture the personal perspectives of Canadian public health leaders. Connie was honoured to reflect on her career path, one devoted to reducing health inequities. She gave an honest narrative of her roots in feminist activism, her years spent with Toronto Public Health, and her time at the helm of the NCCDH.

In her interview, Connie remembered her time as a Director of Planning and Policy at Toronto Public Health at a critical juncture; the amalgamation of six public health units. She described this as one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of her career, due to the fast-paced multi-faceted work environment, working with diverse perspectives to determine solutions, opportunities to spearhead new initiatives, and navigating situations with a high degree of change. 

Connie acknowledged that leading the NCCDH – one of six NCCs for Public Health - requires a similar approach, including an ability to identify and work towards common goals. On a related note, Connie compared the evolution of communications approaches and collaborative practices across the NCCs to changes over time with Ontario’s former PHRED program.

Connie also reflected on the challenges of leading the NCCDH in the context of divergent views on knowledge translation, evidence, and approaches in public health:

“The National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) conducts reviews, yet we spend more time generating case studies and supporting knowledge exchange, such as knowledge transfer from one jurisdiction to another. Exploring complex interventions also requires different knowledge translation methods, since these interventions are context-specific. We know interventions must be tailored to context; conversely understanding context is a critical aspect of effective knowledge exchange. It’s also challenging to be applying knowledge to help public health address inequities – something that has been at the heart of public health since our field’s inception, yet isn’t formally required in all provinces. Even in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s core competencies, equity is a value and philosophy that isn’t well supported by standardized expectations. Attention to outbreaks jumps to the fore and intervening at individual lifestyle is comfortable. This requires our NCC to be inventive at creating openings to influence change. At the same time, interest in understanding how best – concretely – to advance equity through health is growing, and that creates new opportunities.”

Connie closed her interview with some advice. She encourages strong communication, being a team contributor, and maintaining community involvement, as skills that will prove most valuable during a career in public health. For leaders at all levels, particularly in public health, she offered:

“Be open to learning and change. It’s important to learn from our mistakes and to create a safe environment for others to learn from theirs. In public health we tell many good-news stories, yet we’re often uncomfortable discussing errors. This needs to change.”

To read the complete interview, click here.

For examples of NCCDH case studies, such as those mentioned by Connie in her interview, see the “related resources” below:

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