The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Comparing US & Canadian Health Policy

Being told that the US and Canada have different approaches to health care and public health is one thing. Seeing the differences first-hand is quite another.

Yet that is exactly what students in Professor Dean Robinson’s health and health care inequality capstone seminar were able to do this semester when they travelled to Montreal to meet with scholars, medical professionals, and community organizers.

“After studying U.S. health and healthcare disparities and how race, gender and socio-economic status impact health, our trip to Montreal allowed us to compare our analyses of U.S. policy with the Canadian system,” says Tess Jurgensen ’15. “For example, we got to hear from the Montreal Director of Public Health about challenges facing the region, particularly concerning social determinants of health.”

In addition to the Director of Public Health, students met with Mireille Paquet, co-director of the Centre for the Evaluation of Immigration Policies and assistant professor at Concordia University; Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, a family physician and Director of Student Health at McGill University; John Bradley, community organizer at Pointe-Saint-Charles Community Clinic; Dr. Marie-France Raynault, community health physician; and Denise Maines, Student Affairs Administrator at McGill University. The speakers and workshop provided students an introduction to Canadian Politics and Policy, an overview of the very popular health care system of Canada; and an opportunity to research and programs that address the social determinants of health in the city—why, for example, adequate and affordable housing is essential to the health of children.

“My goal was to give students an on-the-ground view of health policy from multiple perspectives and allow them to reflect on how two countries can approach the same topics – medical care and public health – so differently,” says Robinson. “For instance, the way in which a concern for inequality was highlighted so prominently in our discussions with Canadian professionals and policymakers was in itself a glaring departure from how the topic is often framed in the US.”

According to Chris DiTullio ’15, the trip covered a broad range of health topics including the relationship with Quebec Mecicare for both patient and provider, the influence communities have over how healthcare is presented and accessed, and how careful scientific research is used to create and shape policy.  “All of these elements translate to what I've learned in the classroom because they can be used as a comparative model against health care delivery in the United States,” he says.

Encouraging this thoughtful comparison is something Robinson strives for in his own research and in how he structures his classroom discussions.

 “With the capstone course in particular,” he says, “we are able to think through and view very complex issues from multiple lenses because the student body is so diverse.  We represent public health, nutrition, psychology, biology, economics and political science, so the conversations cover a broad range of interests and perspectives.”

Professor Robinson plans to offer the capstone course again next academic year, and he hopes to include a similar field trip with next year’s cohort of students. This year’s trip was generously funded by the Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) and the CHC Dean’s office.


News Type: 

  • Student News