Nicola Mercer (Master of Public Health ’10) describes the path to her position as medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health as unexpected but fortuitous.
After working as a critical care doctor and anesthesiologist, Mercer became chief of the department at Guelph General and took Laurier’s MBA program. One day, after being on call all night, she received a letter from the Ministry of Health expressing a need for public health physicians.
The idea aligned with Mercer. “I was treating diseases, and especially end-stage diseases. I realized I could have a bigger impact by preventing disease much earlier, farther upstream, in public health.”
She explored the idea, quickly realizing it required a Master in Public Health degree, a program that had just started at UWaterloo – one of several that provide opportunities for life-long learning. The online program fit Mercer’s learning style, life as a physician and parent of young children. She was hired at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health even before she graduated.
“There will always be a need for an upstream policy approach because there are always new health factors coming into play,” Mercer says, citing cannabis and vaping as examples. “We wouldn’t have imagined e-cigarettes 20 years ago.” At the same time, she notes policy-driven levers work well for developing healthy communities, whether in designing neighbourhoods or banning smoking.
Looking forward, Mercer sees a wide variety of emerging public health roles contributing to the health of Canadians.
"We have a crisis in lack of space and care. Public health can make changes that result in more resilience, reducing the need for acute care."
She also sees the need for significant emphasis on an aging population. “We have a crisis in lack of space and care. Public health can make changes that result in more resilience, reducing the need for acute care.” Public health is also needed for widespread resilience. “Sometimes catastrophic events refocus governments and people on a more upstream approach to health – climate change will bring new public health challenges.”
Originally published in our Fall 2019 News To You alumni magazine.