Augustana Distinguished Alumni Award winner recognizes importance of “what we can offer”

“I think that we best serve those around us when we seek to be more true to ourselves,” says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, recipient of Augustana’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Sydney Tancowny - 03 June 2021

Recognizing outstanding achievement within one’s vocation, the Augustana’s Distinguished Alumni Award has been deservingly presented to Dr. Deena Hinshaw for her dedication to the health and well-being of Albertans.

After graduating from Augustana University College (AUC) in 1997, Dr. Hinshaw pursued medical school at the University of Alberta. Always having an innate interest in protecting the health of the people around her, it was during her medical studies that she came across the family and community medicine program, which had a special focus on health prevention. This program would later become known as public health and preventive medicine.

"It was the moment where I knew I found the thing I wanted to do with the rest of my life."

Following this discovery, she completed her residency at the U of A, which included earning a master of public health degree. Once she completed clinical training, she stayed connected to the U of A as a clinical professor with the Division of Preventive Medicine and started her work with Alberta Health Services.

While most know her as Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Hinshaw’s work in public health began over a decade ago. First, as the medical officer of health in the Central Zone (beginning, coincidentally, at the tail-end of the H1N1 pandemic in 2010), and then as the medical officer of health lead in the area of public health surveillance and infrastructure. Following this position, Dr. Hinshaw served as the deputy chief medical officer of health in the Ministry of Health before taking on her current position.

Despite not seeing a pandemic of a similar calibre since the early 20th century, Dr. Hinshaw was able to get a taste of her current focus a few years ago. While working at the local level, it was her area that identified the first North American case of H5N1 avian influenza, which had national and international ramifications. As a result, she took on a significant leadership role, and was exposed to the many layers an appropriate virus response needs to take.

"If you asked me before that happened if I would be able to take on this role, I would have said I needed someone else to come in. But, sometimes, the circumstances demand a certain response, and we rise to the occasion and find the help we need."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Hinshaw has had to rise to the occasion once again. Although, this time, with the added aspect of carrying out her work in the public eye. This enhanced public-facing expectation, combined with the prolonged urgency of this significant time in our collective history, has ramped up her role to a relentless pace where she and her team continue to work seven days a week, even 16 months into the pandemic. However, despite this increased demand, Dr. Hinshaw appreciates the opportunity to be a part of the response in this historic moment alongside her team.

"One of the amazing things has been seeing how people rise to the challenge, rise to the occasion and come together to get the job done," said Dr. Hinshaw. "I have tremendous gratitude and respect for the team members I have the privilege to work with."

When asked about future career goals, her focus on the issue at hand remains steadfast, in everything from balancing the personal and professional pressures of her work to ensuring members of her team get the time they need to rest and recharge. And, it is in these moments when her interest in protecting the health of the people around her is most apparent. 

"I think often we feel like we need to be someone we’re not, or that we have to fit into someone else’s mould to be successful. However, every one of us brings something unique to the world, and the more we’re comfortable with that uniqueness, the more we can understand what we can offer because of who we are."

When reflecting on her time as an AUC student, Dr. Hinshaw notes her appreciation of being able to build community with faculty and peers, getting to know who they are and being recognized as who she is in return—and how this experience has emerged throughout her career. "At Augustana, you got to know people from different backgrounds in a diverse learning community to be a part of something bigger than yourself," said Dr. Hinshaw. "That learning has become a part of who I am and has contributed to my ability to make a difference and help others."

Throughout her career, Dr. Hinshaw has strived to make a difference and protect the health of Albertans. And now, through her calm and compassionate embodiment of the Augustana value of servant-leadership, she continues to lead Alberta through the challenges of the pandemic.