Locally raised global citizen envisions new definitions and solutions for human health

Finola Hackett, '19 MD, earns the 2017 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame award.

Kirsten Bauer - 6 November 2017

Raised in Tofield, Alberta, Finola Hackett believes in the importance of our natural environment for overall human health.

"Tofield is a farming community, so it was a very peaceful place to grow up and it was nice to feel a connection with nature. If you travel somewhere like China, you see kids growing up in mega-cities and they barely ever see green space, so I really value that."

Driven by a passion for international health policy, Hackett is the 2017 recipient of the University of Alberta's Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award, given annually to a student who stands out as a future health care leader.

Hackett has an impressive range of accomplishments. As the current Alberta Medical Association's (AMA's) student representative, she organized the inaugural Advocacy Night, an event in which students and mentors from the AMA and the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry (FoMD) gather to learn about various health advocacy topics. She also collaborated with FoMD mentors to develop a module on Indigenous health and diabetes for the U of A's physicianship course, which she later presented at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education. In 2014, Hackett pursued an internship with the World Health Organization (WHO), where she was quickly elected VP of the WHO board of interns.

"The thing that I really hope to see is that we have a more proactive and less reactive approach to health," she said. "This may be a pie-in-the-sky kind of dream, but I'd like to see a system where we have such good education in schools and with families, and we have a food system and a whole infrastructure in society that allows people to be their best selves, to be healthy and active, prevent chronic disease and prevent injury."

Hackett's global-mindedness is rooted in a family tradition of rural medicine. "My dad's actually a rural GP. My mom was a nurse and a midwife and they met out in Goose Bay, Labrador, which is very remote," Hackett said, "but I didn't consider medicine until later on."

Smiling children and interns

Above: Pea-pod Hackett interned with JUCCCE's Food Heroes program in 2015 and 2016 in Shanghai

A world of opportunity

Before medical school, Hackett majored in environmental studies and minored in political science. "I started out thinking I was going to go into environmental law, because I thought it would have the most widespread, upstream impact on people's well-being. We're dependent on our natural world and resources, and that's becoming a bigger and bigger issue this century."

"But then halfway through I realized that I really liked having a more direct impact on people's well-being. And there are a lot of links between the environment and public health, so I've kept that public health, global health and environmental perspective."

Hackett believes that physicians have opportunities to foster positive change in the world, and thanks to her many mentors, medical school has given her a deeper understanding of "what makes people tick".

"Med school is a lot of fun," she added. "You work with such a diverse group of people from different academic backgrounds. And that sense of collegiality is really what we're so lucky to have in medicine."

Future plans

Hackett says it will take some time to decide on a specialty, because she doesn't want to limit herself, but she is considering a combined career in Family Medicine and Public Health.

"I know I'll always be interested in health systems and health policy no matter what I do. If I'm a subspecialist of some sort, I know that I'll be interested in leadership and in the health system somehow."

Regardless of where she ends up, Hackett hopes to challenge traditional health care, in favour of a system that better incorporates quality of life.

"Health is not just the absence of disease. We don't have a very strong understanding of what gives people a sense of well-being right now. You know, maybe you'll feel better with certain things that aren't measurable on a traditional medical scale."