Written by Kelsey Chalmers
Australia is a long way from most countries, and so every Australian develops their own tricks for coping with the lengthy flights and jetlag. I stubbornly force myself to stick to the local time zone, drinking a near-dangerous amount of coffee until I can collapse in bed at a normal hour. I spent my first weekend in Hamilton, Ontario in this zombie-like-state after a 15 hour, non-stop flight followed by another 6-hour one. Despite this, Hamilton absolutely charmed me from day one (it is an amazing city for anyone who loves craft beer, live music and/or waterfalls).
I was there to visit McMaster University’s Health Forum as a Queen Elizabeth incoming scholar, fortunate to be one of the 10 selected postgraduate students from various Commonwealth countries. Our cohort had representatives from Australia, Malaysia, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and Trinidad, all invested in strengthening their health care systems. We spent 3 weeks bonding over the course content, sharing the challenges in our masters or PhD work, exploring the city, our tragic performance in trivia at The Phoenix (which can be blamed on there being way too many Canadian-centric questions), FIFA World Cup matches, as well as our own ‘global’ table tennis tournament. This unique and wonderful group of people each contributed to making the trip so memorable (the only downside now is the amount of time I will have to spend flying to visit you all).
Of course, there were workshops and courses to do – every day we sat in the ‘dialogue space’ (not too dissimilar from Dr Evil’s boardroom in Austin Powers) and worked our way through an enormous binder of lecture slides and activities. The first week was on ‘evidence in health policy’, and there was a shared frustration once we began to apply these skills to our selected problems (from ‘why is there nothing published?’ to ‘why is there so much published?’). There is nothing like the ‘aha’ moment when your search strategy yields the perfect systematic review that answers all of your questions.
While our first week was spent learning to use evidence in developing policy, our second week was on why this does not always happen in practice. We discussed decision-making and agenda setting in health care, and some interesting political science (which led to some ad-hoc policy analysis of recent decisions made by Canada’s southern neighbour). This workshop concluded in the most frantic and exciting way possible for policy nerds (like me): a mock summit of both the World Health Assembly the UN General Assembly. As the chairperson of the first meeting, I can report we are well on our way in globally eradicating and monitoring polio outbreaks.
We spent our final week learning the building blocks of health care systems. I have devoted so much time over the past few years figuring out Australia’s health care system (and still come across new information all the time). It is a labyrinth of providers, payers and regulators, yet it was finally easy for me to see how they fit together using the deceptively simple frameworks from this workshop.
I left Canada overwhelmed by two things: gratefulness and inspiration. I am so thankful for the opportunity from the scholarship program, and the Health Forum staff. The considerable effort and thoughtfulness put into our stay and the quality of the workshops shone through every day. I am thankful to everyone at home in Australia for indulging my absence, but knowing how hard I am going to work to put what I have learnt into practice here. Finally, I am so thankful for my fellow QE scholars making me feel so much a part of your global community.