Good morning. My name is Anowa Quarcoo.
I came to Canada as an international student in 2004.
It wasn’t until five years later, when I had a health issue, that I realized I had absolutely no idea how to navigate the Canadian healthcare system.
I didn’t have a family doctor…I had no idea where to go…and I didn’t feel sick enough to go to the emergency room.
So I went to a walk-in clinic.
I waited three hours in a cramped, fluorescent-lit waiting room, until I was finally led into a tiny office. I was out in less than five minutes.
I ended up in the ER a few days later, where I waited for more than five hours. When I left, I felt tired, frustrated – and I was at a loss about what to do next.
Then, something happened.
A friend connected me to a family doctor who showed me what a positive health care experience could look like.
For the first time since I came to Canada, I felt like someone in my health-care journey had taken the time to listen and care.
I felt heard. I felt seen. I felt believed.
And, I felt lucky. Which shouldn’t be the case.
Because, as a racialized person, as an immigrant, and as a woman, I am well aware that there are too many people like me who can’t count on luck.
Who are stuck navigating a complex, overwhelming system.
Who have to tell their stories over and over again.
Whose health providers only treat the issues they see, not the ones they can’t – like barriers to accessing care and the realities of life that impact health.
We all deserve a doctor like mine, who hears us, who involves us in decisions that impact our health, and who advocates to get us the care we need.
She was there for me when I got a traumatic brain injury that was missed in the ER after a car accident. She was there for me when a medication I was on had rare side effects. And she was there for me when I needed a dermatologist who could diagnose conditions on dark skin.
I would rave about her to my mom, who always said that the experience of being a patient was just as important as treating the illness.
My mother was a psychologist on one of Uganda’s first integrated health teams focused on holistic health.
She was a huge proponent of creating a great patient experience and had started mapping out how it could improve health outcomes. She was planning to do her PhD on this.
And I remember being with her as she battled cancer on the other side of the world. She hated the hospital environment as a patient. She was often frustrated, and we would talk about the fact that the psychology of only being treated as a sick person rather than as a person who happened to be dealing with an illness was a problem.
And that’s when I realized that this wasn’t just a Canadian issue. It was a global one. And as a design thinker, I started to question why there was very little focus on the experience of care, the human aspect of it and what it meant for patients and for health-care workers who are already dealing with so much.
The reality is, I am standing here today because of the empathy I was shown.
Everyone deserves to feel confident in the health care they receive – no matter who they are or what corner of the world they’re from.
We should feel seen.
We should feel empowered.
We should feel accepted.
And we should feel connected.
And when I learned about what St. Michael’s is doing, the bold endeavour you’re going to hear about this morning, it struck me. This is EXACTLY what we need.
This is EXACTLY what’s missing for too many people.
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