Elisa Levi has spent her entire working life seeking ways to make a difference. Professionally, she started out in 2002 as a registered dietitian, has taken on several leadership roles with health-focused organizations, launched her own independent consulting firm, and today is midway through medical school.
She sees a close connection between her original degree and medicine: both are mechanisms for upstream investment to improve the health of people. Up until now, she has focused on supporting the health of Indigenous populations.
"Most physicians move from direct care practice to the systems level. I'm going in the other direction," she laughs. As an Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, with roots in Elsipogtog First Nation, she says that "there is significant opportunity to improve health equity that is grounded in Indigenous world views."
Bridging gaps, building relationships
Over the years, Levi has worked across Canada leading multisectoral collaborations developing culturally safe initiatives while maintaining a connection to nutrition. Just before starting medical school, she helped develop First Nations guiding principles for the use and implementation of Canada's new food guide.
More broadly, she's served in paid and volunteer roles with The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and as a board director for the Toronto Board of Health, the Anishnawbe Health Foundation, Red Sky Performance, the ONEXONE Foundation and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. She was part of the team that developed the first Indigenous cancer strategy within a cancer agency. As a private consultant, she focuses on food systems consulting and funding for Indigenous communities across the country. There has been a little more flexibility in the transition from clerkship to virtual learning during COVID-19, which has allowed Elisa to help launch the Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund.
"No matter what I'm doing, I always try to build relationships," she says. "A key part of any project is finding a path, resolving conflicts and facilitating change based on strengths instead of focusing on deficiencies."
Just getting started
After she graduates in 2021, Levi plans to practise as a family physician and work directly with patients in a rural setting, possibly in her home community on the Bruce Peninsula. And she'll keep working on issues of population health, health equity and nutrition.
"I'm interested in social enterprises and how to improve care for people with living with addictions," she says. "For me, the big question is always, 'How can we imagine better care and what will it take to make it happen?' Becoming a physician is about retooling my skills so I can create even more of a network for change."
Elisa Levi is receiving the Dr. Brian Brodie Medical Learner Leadership Award in recognition of her exemplary dedication, commitment and leadership as a medical student.