Executive Director, Canadian Public Health Association
The quality of our health is determined to a large extent by the conditions of everyday life, and by the systems put in place to promote health, prevent disease, and to support us when we get sick or are injured.
Canada remains a nation where public policies and institutions can create harm for individuals and communities based on race, religion, culture, and ethnic origin. These policies and institutional practices result in inequities in social inclusion, economic outcomes, personal health, and access to and quality of health and social services. These effects are especially evident for racialized, Black, and Indigenous peoples, those at the lower end of the socioeconomic gradient, women and gender-diverse people, people with disabilities, and other equity-seeking communities.
There’s currently a lack of diversity in training and in the leadership of the health care sector. To serve the needs of a diverse population, it’s imperative that Canada’s health care system take measures to improve diversity and inclusion as well as cultural competence. Cultural competence is the ability to collaborate effectively with individuals from different cultures. It has been proven to improve health care experiences and outcomes, and a recent review of 16 studies showed that diversity can help health care organizations improve patient care quality.
Measures to improve both diversity and cultural competency must begin early. Elementary and secondary schools need to encourage a wider range of students to seriously consider careers in science and medicine. Post-secondary institutions need to ensure that their learning environments are supportive and that discriminatory practices are eliminated. Health care employers and service providers need to establish anti-racism and anti-discrimination policies, accessible complaints procedures, whistle-blower protection, anonymous processes for reporting racist acts, and independent ombudspersons to investigate complaints.
A diverse and inclusive workforce that better reflects the community it serves is a good first step.