Having spent her early years in Labrador, the North was always part of Susan Chatwood’s circle of friends and family. So it felt like a natural place to land when she became a nurse in the 1980s and wanted to address the lack of access to health care in remote communities.
She ended up working as far north as anyone could: the Arctic.
“They’re wonderful communities and the environment is beautiful,” says Chatwood, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “You make good friendships. I’ve been able to work with so many amazing Elders and learn so much from that.”
Recently, Chatwood, who is in Dalla Lana's social and behavioural health sciences division, received the Governor General’s 2019 Polar Medal for a lifetime of work on public health in the Arctic – and, in particular, studying and helping to improve access to culturally appropriate care.
“I think one of the biggest challenges in terms of access is the cultural appropriateness of the health-care system and how it operates in the northern context – being able to understand how northerners perceive wellness in their communities,” she says. “People have a very holistic perception of wellness: It’s not only whether you wake up and feel healthy but when you wake up, do you have access to land and food security? How has the caribou decline impacted community wellness?”