Janet Smylie - Family Doctor and Health Researcher

CurioCity Careers
6 January 2016

Janet Smylie

Family Doctor, Research Scientist, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto

Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Toronto

I was born/grew up in: Vancouver but spent most of my childhood north of Toronto

I now live in: Toronto, Ontario

I completed my training/education at: I studied biochemistry at McGill then studied medicine at Queen’s University. I completed my internship and residency in Ottawa, specializing in family medicine, with an extra year focusing on women’s health. After practicing as a doctor for a couple of years, I went back to school to study public health and pursue health research.

Do you self-identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit (FNMI)? If yes, with which community do you affiliate?

Yes, I am Métis. I am a member of the Métis Nation of Ontario. I have seven generations of Métis heritage on my mother’s side with my father’s side being of mixed European ancestry.

Describe what you do at work.

Every day is a bit different for me, which I enjoy! I spend a lot of time working with Indigenous communities to help to make health care systems more useful for them. I probably spend about half my time in meetings, working on research projects with a team of research scientists, research coordinators, patients, community members, elders, - students and health care workers. One day a week I usually spend at home writing. I use a lot of statistics (a type of math) in order to analyze data from a group of people to see what it can tell us about the overall population of people we’re investigating. My job also takes digital literacy skills to search databases for information and also to share my results with the global community.

How does your job affect people’s lives?

Even in a wealthy country like Canada, there are inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Indigenous families face a lot of challenges and their children experience a higher burden of illness compared to other Canadians. I get to work to try to address these inequities by trying to make the health care system more accessible and more useful for Indigenous people. As a family doctor it was easy to see how you were helping. For example, you could put a cast on a broken arm to make it better. With population research it can be a bit harder to see the difference you are making, but it is still possible. For example, I worked with a group of Indigenous midwives in Toronto to evaluate their program and demonstrate that it is helping families and improving infant outcomes. This research helped the midwives to get funding to build a new birthing centre in Toronto.

What motivates you in your career?

I was always interested in studying science, particularly humans; we are amazing complex systems both individually and in groups. I love to build ideas with other people, bridging different areas of knowledge. In my job, I get to work with many different people to bridge the mainstream health care system and Indigenous communities. I especially like working with young people like student researchers and doctors or midwives in training and helping to train more Indigenous researchers and health care professionals.

Describe your career path to this career.

I feel really lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. My family encouraged my interest in science and instilled in me the importance of education and of hard work. Growing up, I learned Métis values of reciprocity and fairness. I went straight to university after high school, and then moved to studying medicine with the goal of health research. I practiced as a family doctor for a couple of years before going back to school to become a health researcher. I have felt some racism towards myself as a Métis person throughout my career, but perseverance and the help of good people along the way have got me through.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I like spending time with family, which includes seven-year old twin boys! I was their soccer coach this summer. I also like to read mystery novels, watch movies, and travel to warm places.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Find your talent and believe in yourself and stick with it. Don’t let people tell you you’re not capable. Surround yourself with kind, honest people. And have some fun along the way!

CurioCity Careers

We hope you enjoyed learning about this great STEM career! The information in this career profile was provided by this individual especially for CurioCity. We hope it helped give you a sense of what this type of job is really like.

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