May 26, 2022

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Labrador-Grenfell has a new medical officer of health with deep roots in the Big Land

Dr. Joanne McGee is the new medical officer of health for Labrador-Grenfell Health. (Submitted by Winnifred Montague)

Labrador-Grenfell Health has a new medical officer of health who says her roots in the Big Land have greatly contributed to her health-care career — but she didn’t always want to be a doctor.

Dr. Joanne McGee, who was born in North West River, told CBC News she wanted to be a nurse as long as she can remember.

“It wasn’t my ambition as a child to be a physician. I think it came from the fact that the majority of our health-care providers in our communities were nurses,” said McGee, who took on the position at the regional health authority about a month ago.

“I think I grew up more relating to nurses than to physicians. It was actually rare for us to be assessed by a physician or to have any particular care provided by a physician.”

After high school McGee completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing and returned to Labrador to work as a public health nurse.

“It was once I started my career in nursing that I expanded my role from public health to what we would call regional nursing,” she said. 

“It was once I started in that role that made me think maybe I could go on and do medicine. However, life things happened.”

McGee started a family but she wasn’t done with the notion of moving into medicine. When her youngest child was five she began to revisit her career plans. 

McGee worked as a public health nurse before becoming a doctor. (Rebecca Martel/CBC )

“It kind of went from there. At the same time I was doing some course work in graduate studies which kind of reinvigorated my passion for learning,” she said. 

“So I applied for medicine and got in and away we went.”

Addressing disparities 

Once she started down the path to becoming a doctor, she said, she began thinking about returning to a career in public health. She said she feels privileged to be in her position, and wouldn’t want to do it anywhere but Labrador.

COVID-19 has taken up much of her time so far in the job, she said, and will likely continue to be the focus for a while, but she hopes to soon be able to focus on other public health priorities that have been on the back burner since the pandemic started.

“It’s no secret that for Indigenous communities in general the health outcomes are poorer than other communities in the country. I feel that that’s really important to acknowledge and to work together to address the disparities that exist,” said McGee.

“I would certainly agree that systemic racism is something within the health-care system, not only locally, provincially, but certainly nationally. Cultural safety is really important to me in any of the work I do.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador