Scholarship Shortlist BC - Hermeen Dhillon

Health Literacy to Empower Children: 2019 Scholarship Finalist (BC)

Hermeen Dhillon

University of British Columbia – Doctor of Medicine – 2020

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that more than 50% of Canadians over the age of 20 are inflicted with chronic disease, a figure that is rapidly on the rise. Although the Canadian population is privy to a rich amount of research-based health information and has access to the most advanced medical technology, the prevalence of chronic disease remains elevated, contributing to the poor physical, mental, and cognitive health of the population. We now know that the majority of these chronic diseases share similar underlying risk factors that can be capitalized upon in order to concentrate efforts on disease prevention and health promotion. With gradual exposure to the healthcare system since the start of my medical education, I have built an understanding about the concept of preventative healthcare and have further witnessed the consequences its absence has on the health of our population. With this understanding I have gravitated towards the power that this concept holds and how it can be optimized to change the future of healthcare.

As I have noticed gaps in the field of preventative healthcare thus far, I have been inspired to fill those gaps by way of initiating and involving myself in various community projects surrounding health promotion. These projects have aimed to make use of health literacy to empower individuals to gain control over their health and other health determinants. A crucial target audience to instill this knowledge in is the pediatric population given the remarkable amount of learning that has the potential to take place during these early years and the lifelong impact it carries. As such, I partnered with a local elementary school in the city of Vancouver in order to develop and deliver an educational curriculum covering important topics in preventative health care for early elementary school children. The curricular activities cover a broad spectrum of topics including active living, healthy eating, bugs and drugs, emotional well being, and smoking. Additionally, I have collaborated with a peer to begin the process of developing an original children’s book series aimed to help build foundational knowledge of health and disease in a entertaining way for this younger demographic. With the guidance of a supervisor, we plan to bring this endeavor into local elementary schools and then hope to further extend beyond this.

The pediatric population is indeed an essential age group to begin the discussion of disease prevention and health promotion but additional factions must also be attended to. As an Indo-Canadian in the medical profession, it is not difficult to recognize that cardiovascular diseases are prominent health issues in the South Asian community and that non-English speaking individuals in this community often times lack knowledge about these diseases to the extent that they suffer preventable long-term consequences resulting from poor disease management. Understanding the burden this places on the individual, their family, and the health care system, I have founded an initiative to educate this community about common health issues through easy-to-understand educational presentations at local temples and community gatherings. This has been initiated with the hope that I can help empower my community to take charge of their health by equipping them with knowledge.

Although I am only at the preliminary portion of my medical career, I have gained enough exposure to the medical field to get a sense of the direction I see my career taking. I plan to build a career as a full-service family physician with an interest in both rural and hospital-based medicine. Given that my interest in preventative medicine has already been kindled, I plan to also devote a significant portion of my career towards screening programs and advocacy projects aimed to educate communities around the topic of disease prevention and health promotion. Whether this be the continuance of endeavors I am currently overseeing or the development of new initiatives as I see gaps in the system, preventative medicine will have an important place in my future. By shifting the focus from treatment and management to disease prevention and health promotion, we will begin to see positive long-term effects on children, adults, and seniors, not only in their physical health state but also in terms of their mental and social health.