Canadian Medical Association

Dr. Ak'ingabe Guyon 

Montréal doctor leading fight for public health prevention in Quebec

Kenya and Tanzania are half a world away from Dr. Ak’ingabe Guyon’s practice in Montréal, yet it was her work in these two countries that she says cemented her commitment to public health medicine.

After interning with the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, she saw first-hand the importance of population health. This led her to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which then took her to Tanzania, where she spent a year working with public health physicians.

“These international experiences were fundamental in my choice to pursue public health. I really had the opportunity to see how health is not so much about individual behaviours as it is about the social determinants of health.”

After returning to Canada, Dr. Guyon applied this same philosophy to her work with public health units throughout Canada: in British Columbia, in the Outaouais, on Cree Land in James Bay, in the Lower St. Lawrence, and now, in her hometown of Montréal. In each location, she has tried to tackle broad public health issues, such as smoking reduction and suicide prevention, as ways to boost health outcomes for the entire community.

It’s challenging work — but Dr. Guyon says her biggest battle was political.

In 2015, the Quebec government slashed $24 million from regional public health budgets — a 33% reduction. Dr. Guyon took her concerns directly to the National Assembly and the minister responsible for public health. 

“When there are decisions that go against the health of my patients, I have to do something, so speaking out about this weakening of public health — that we unfortunately see across Canada — was imperative.”

She also went to the public, producing a video explaining the impact of the budget cuts and co-writing an editorial in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Although the Quebec government has yet to restore funding to public health, Dr. Guyon’s advocacy did not go unnoticed. In 2018, Public Health Physicians of Canada presented her with its President’s Award, for her work defending public health.

An accomplished researcher and teacher, Dr. Guyon was also recently recognized for her work at the Université de Montréal, receiving an excellence in teaching award from the School of Public Health.

Despite this recognition, Dr. Guyon says preventive medicine is a team sport, and she speaks proudly about working alongside social workers, nutritionists, toxicologists and demographers who are all aiming to make lasting changes in whole communities.

“It’s a huge privilege to know that what we do has an impact for many years, on many generations and millions of people.”

Dr. Ak'ingabe Guyon is the recipient of the CMA Medal of Service. It is awarded to a CMA member who has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of health care in Canada.

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