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St. Paul’s researcher appointed to Order of Canada for contributions to Indigenous health research
By Grace Jenkins
Dr. Jeff Reading
Dr. Jeff Reading, PhD, the First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital, has been appointed as a member to the Order of Canada.
The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation. Dr. Reading has been appointed as Member, The Order of Canada (M.C.) for his groundbreaking contributions to Indigenous health research and for his leadership in bringing Indigenous perspectives to scientific and health institutions.
Improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people.
Dr. Reading is an Indigenous researcher from a Mohawk community of the Tyendinaga First Nation in Ontario. He is a leading international expert in Indigenous health, with more than two decades of experience in enhancing knowledge on Indigenous health issues.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s quite a gap in health and life expectancy for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada,” says Dr. Reading. Throughout his career, he has worked with academics, doctors, and other health care providers to narrow this gap.
As the First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital, Dr. Reading leads research that focuses on improving wellbeing and access to healthcare for Indigenous people and investigates the root causes of those disparities in health outcomes. Because the Chair was established through a partnership between Providence Health Care’s St. Paul’s Hospital, the First Nations Health Authority, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Simon Fraser University, this role presented a unique opportunity to collaborate with people from across those domains.
“The reason I was attracted to the role was because it combines the creation of new knowledge – research – with the health care system and the provision of care, like at St. Paul’s Hospital and Providence Health Care, with advocacy and policy work, which is the health authority and the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” says Dr. Reading. “It’s a unique way of doing research, and translating that research into policy.”
In one research project, they are conducting a longitudinal maternal-child cohort study with the aim of optimizing the health and well-being of children from an Indigenous community. The study will collect data on biological markers, social and economic factors such as education, and traditional issues such as access to traditional food, language and cultural activity as these children grow and develop.
“The idea is to be able to look at the developmental origins of health and disease,” says Dr. Reading.
Ethical research guidelines to protect Indigenous communities
Dr. Reading has been instrumental in the creation of ethical guidelines for the conduct of research surrounding Indigenous communities.
“There’s a long history of Indigenous people being exploited by researchers, who didn’t obtain informed consent or adhere to ethical protocols that were agreed to,” says Dr. Reading.
That history has caused ‘research’ to have very negative connotations for Indigenous people. Dr. Reading helped to create ethical guidelines to build trust and provide protection for research participants, so their health needs can be addressed.
Beyond conducting research to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous people, Dr. Reading’s work also builds capacity within Indigenous communities themselves to meet their own research needs in the future, which will better position them to find solutions to pressing problems.
Addressing barriers to care
A significant part of Dr. Reading’s research focuses on access to health care. Indigenous people can face stigma and barriers to care while navigating their healthcare journeys, particularly when it comes to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and mental health and addiction.
“We have to think about creating a safe environment, so that everyone, when they need healthcare, has the right access to that healthcare, free of discrimination,” says Dr. Reading.
He believes that the construction of the new St. Paul’s Hospital presents an opportunity. “It’s a time to rethink the way we’re doing things, and looking at how Indigenous people will have equal access to the care that they need, when they need it.”
Looking to the future, Dr. Reading wanted to highlight people, such as St. Paul’s cardiology fellow Dr. Miles Marchand, who are immersed in First Nations’ culture and tradition, while holding significant positions at academic and medical institutions, and are able to act as bridges between these institutions and their communities.
“Surprised and delighted” to be inducted into the Order of Canada
When Dr. Reading received a message from the Governor General of Canada’s office, he initially though he was being asked for a letter of support for someone else’s nomination to the Order of Canada.
“I was very surprised and delighted to learn that they were actually inducting me into the Order, especially since the Governor General is an Indigenous leader - Mary Simon, who is Inuit - so that makes it extra special,” says Dr. Reading. “It’s a big honour, and I am very humbled to be included in something like this.”
You can read the full news release about his appointment here.