It’s always a family physician’s priority to keep their patients safe. During the pandemic, family doctors across Ontario have stretched beyond their main responsibilities to keep communities informed. Here are some ways family doctors have taken on this task.
As President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO), Dr. Onye Nnorom of Toronto has been instrumental in encouraging vaccine confidence in the Black community.
She has helped set up pop-up vaccination clinics with Black family doctors and vaccinators in hot-spot neighbourhoods in the city – addressing both accessibility and vaccine distrust in the community by offering a culturally safe environment for vaccination.
One of the first pop-ups was held on Mother’s Day weekend, featuring an information booth to answer COVID and vaccine questions, food, and a live DJ “to entertain the vaccine keen.” The turnout was incredible. That weekend, 2,231 vaccine doses were administered.
“When we provide vaccines in a culturally safe way, with respect and dignity it builds vaccine confidence,” says Dr. Nnorom.
Dr. Nnorom also hosts the Race, Health and Happiness podcast that looks at the ways racism can affect health. In its second season, she interviews guests who have achieved their professional goals despite overt and institutionalized racism.
Stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires a big-picture approach.
And Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth has used this strategy since the early days of the pandemic. A family doctor and medical anthropologist, Dr. Kaplan-Myrth has a packed calendar—but facilitating a more productive dialogue between medical professionals, policymakers, and the public is always near the top of her to-do list. She even chaired an interdisciplinary panel with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “I wanted to highlight the need for collaboration across specialties, professions, and provinces to advocate for the wellbeing of our communities,” she says.
Meanwhile, her community activism has led her to host popular vaccination events resembling neighbourhood street fests, and she has also taken to social and other media to inform the public about the evolving nature of the pandemic and provide vaccination updates.
To give voice to marginalized populations and galvanize better access to healthcare and social services, Ottawa-based Dr. Kaplan-Myrth knew she needed a purpose-built platform.
“I created and co-host Rx Advocacy, a podcast where we speak with women physicians, educators, leaders, and activists,” she explains. “What began as an urgent call for help has become a very powerful collection of conversations with colleagues and community members across Canada.”
Each day since the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Jennifer Kwan, of Burlington, has been tracking COVID-19 data, creating graphs, and sharing this information with the public on Twitter.
Dr. Kwan believed that if people saw the numbers in a graph, it would help them visualize and better understand how Ontario has been impacted by the virus. What began as an effort to encourage people to protect themselves has become a daily ‘must read’ for her 64,500 followers on Twitter.
Initially, her graphs tracked the number of cases, but as more data became available, she began to include charts and graphs on other metrics including hospitalizations, ICU admissions, deaths, testing, positivity rates, and even the variants of concern.
Dr. Kwan spends about an hour each morning compiling this information from publicly reported data and is committed to producing daily reports until the end of the pandemic. As she notes: “When people have a higher level of health literacy, they feel empowered about their own health.”
Expert, trusted advice is a powerful way to help alleviate some of the psychological anxiety of living through a pandemic.
To that end, Dr. Sean Blaine of Stratford has found ways to provide insights and assurance to as many members of his Stratford community as possible. He partnered with a local film and television production company to produce a video series of public health messages covering topics that are top of mind—from returning to school during the pandemic, to staying safe over the holidays, to the COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
To date, his videos have had more than 70,000 views on YouTube and an even larger reach on Facebook. “We believe there is going to be a greater need for reliable and trustworthy health messaging … and who better than a family physician to deliver it?”
Learn more about the work Ontario family physicians are doing to keep their patients and communities safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.