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Newly appointed Applied Public Health Research Chair will address gaps in Indigenous health

Toronto, January 12, 2015

By Geoff Koehler

Dr. Janet Smylie
Dr. Janet Smylie

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada have awarded Dr. Janet Smylie an Applied Public Health Research Chair to address the striking inequities in health and health service access experienced by Indigenous people in Canada. Dr. Smylie will focus on improving access to effective treatments for illnesses disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples, such as diabetes, obesity, tuberculosis, suicide and dental disease.

“Our goal is to ensure that every child born in Canada has the opportunity to live a full and healthy life,” said Dr. Smylie, who is a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital Department of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Smylie is also a researcher in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, where she directs the Well Living House – a research centre for Indigenous infant, child and family health and well-being.

Dr. Smylie, who is Métis, said that her research will consider local Indigenous cultures and contexts and prioritize community partnerships. To that end she’s forged and nurtured dozens of research partnerships with Indigenous communities and organizations around the world.

“We’ll integrate Indigenous approaches to health and well-being in our research to find the most effective ways to develop, implement and evaluate evidence-based interventions with Indigenous populations,” said Dr. Smylie. “Our research will support the respectful sharing local best practices between Indigenous communities in Canada and globally – an approach which wouldn’t be possible without our Indigenous community and organizational research partners.”

The grant application, titled: “Clearing the pathways to health equity: Applied Public Health Research Chair in Indigenous health information and knowledge systems,” ranked fourth in a field of 41 applications from all areas of public health. Dr. Smylie is one of 14 participants to receive the honour in 2014.

“Dr. Smylie’s work fits perfectly into the overall goal of CIHR’s Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples signature initiative,” said Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of CIHR. “By funding her chair, we will help Dr. Smylie integrate health interventions in Aboriginal communities that will improve their health in four priority areas: tuberculosis, oral health, suicide prevention and obesity/diabetes. She will achieve this by collaborating with Aboriginal health leaders, partnering with community members, and respecting Aboriginal knowledge and practices.”

Dr. Smylie received a New Investigator Award from CIHR in 2009. In 2012, she received the prestigious National Aboriginal Achievement Indspire Award, which recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals across the country.

The mentorship component of the Applied Public Health Research Chair allows for the hiring of a Junior Chair in Aboriginal health at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, where Dr. Smylie is also an associate professor.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.