Science & Tech

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Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.
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Promoting education and open conversation around health remains a priority

Between Jan. 23 and Feb. 27, students across Canada can anticipate six consecutive Saturdays of healthcare education, collaboration, and inspiration as the University of Ottawa Healthcare Symposium (UOHS) returns for its eleventh edition.

The Fulcrum sat down to interview 2020-2021 UOHS co-presidents, Hanbyoul Agatha Park and Michelle Hong to gain insight on what the team hopes to offer the student body at this year’s conference.

“This year, delegates can really expect to taste what healthcare is truly like [in the age of COVID-19]. I think we have some of the most well-esteemed speakers from diverse fields on our itinerary,” said Hong. 

This year, the UOHS team decided to focus their discussion panel on advocating for inclusion and diversity, delving into three main aspects: Indigenous health, representation for Black excellence in healthcare, and  LGBTQ2+ experiences in the healthcare system.

Normally a one day event, Park elaborated on the reasons UOHS decided to stretch the length of the conference to over a month. 

“We really had to think about the delegate experience which is why instead of having a full day’s worth of online conference time, we broke it up into a seminar series to account for Zoom fatigue. We really didn’t want delegates to stare at a screen for eight hours straight.”

Key-note speakers include Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health and a U of O alum, and Dr. Gigi Osler, former president of the Canadian Medical Association. The former opened the conference and the later will close it with other speakers scheduled in between.

The co-presidents are enthusiastic about projected event turnout and encourage everyone, even if  not currently involved in healthcare, to register. 

“[I had] always thought that health care is [all about] doctors and nurses,” said Park. “Joining UOHS gave me insight and confidence in healthcare as something that I, too, could dive into, and now I’m more open-minded [about my own options].”

According to Hong, the conference “really emphasizes different experiences and how there’s so much out there that we don’t know. There is so much information and so many healthcare experts from the field to listen to, and you can’t help but be inspired by these people — you can’t help but want to follow in their footsteps.”

“I joined the exec team because I once participated as a delegate, and I really wanted to organize and be able to give back in the same way. I hope that this year, the message and quality will be the same, if not to an even higher standard.”

This year’s theme is ‘Unite & Ignite’ as also represented by many of the team’s side projects over the past semester, including their Monthly Roundtable Discussion and the Healthcare Signs and Symptoms podcast series. 

“The podcast might be one of the proudest things that we did … to add something new this year!,” said the co-presidents. The podcast series gave rise to a platform to communicate and to discuss health issues within the student body.

The UOHS team firmly believes in the interdisciplinary approach, and continues to execute both the Round Table Discussion and podcast series in hopes of getting more students to be part of the discussion on health. 

“We aim to advocate for and educate undergraduate students on topics that are less commonly spoken about. It’s not just educational, it’s professional, it’s about being down-to-earth enough to talk about these issues and developments,” expressed Hong.

“One topic we’ve discussed was men’s mental health, where we had two of our own male executives talk on the podcast about their mental health, which is super important — it’s controversial, there is stigma around it, and the goal of this podcast is to remove that stigma.” Some other topics include obesity, telemedicine, politicalization of science, burnout, COVID-19 testing and more.

Due to the pandemic, club activities have been universally challenged but the UOHS chairs remain optimistic about the upcoming event. 

“When we had our first event during Clubs Fair, we only had one person show up, and I was really sad because UOHS is a big club and we’ve never had that little of a turnout before,” said Park. “I think we got scared, but it doesn’t mean we can give up because it paves way to implement more ideas to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

The UOHS is well known for several key events each year such as their Elevator Pitch Competition and panel discussion. Their usual silent auction was called off this year.

“Our Elevator Pitch Competition is something we’ve held every year, and it’s when undergraduate students from across Ontario come to compete and briefly present their research. It gives attending students a chance to see what research is out there,” shared Hong.

“Promoting our conference was a lot harder to do given the circumstances,” explained Park. Even with all the adaptations, the goal remains to get students involved in the discussion. 

“I think it’s all about making connections this year,” added Hong.

You can find more information about UOHS 2021 here.