University of Ottawa Healthcare Symposium (UOHS): A Review

Disclaimer: I will only discuss the speaker seminars that I attended, but from word of mouth, the remainder of the speakers I did not have the chance to see were highly commended by other conference delegates.

The title says it all! This is a review of an extremely successful undergraduate healthcare conference. The University of Ottawa Heathcare Symposium (UOHS), which was run solely by motivated undergraduate students, impressed us with renowned speakers who discussed prevailing healthcare issues in our society. The most principal aspect to acknowledge would most definitely be the unwaveringly committed team who organized the University’s largest healthcare conference. A special shout out to Victoire Difié Kpadé and Amanda Quan, UOHS’s second time co-chairs.

This year’s simple yet preeminent theme was “Back to the Basics,” highlighting the benefits of reflecting on basic principles of healthcare. Healthcare and cutting-edge research evolves at an increasingly fast pace. The goal of this theme was to educate students on the interdisciplinary aspects of healthcare, while reflecting on how simple ideas could spur a revolution in healthcare. A perfect example of this phenomenon was addressed by the conference’s keynote speaker, Dr. Andrew Pelling, the University’s very own Associate Professors in the Department of Physics. His work emphasizes on the biophysical aspects of cells and addresses the dynamic mechanical and physical properties of cellular systems. However, his talk chiefly revolved on his work in making “ears out of apples,” which earned him international recognition and a TED talk. The purpose of this research was to illuminate the possible use of sustainable biomaterials (i.e., apples) as a scaffold in tissue engineering. This is the gist of the talk, but I grant a huge round of applause to Dr. Pelling for his com(pelling) lecture (haha, get it?), and to the UOHS team for recruiting him to the conference. The paradoxical nature of his work, taking something as “basic” and classic, like an apple, and potentially transforming the field of regenerative medicine, seamlessly fit the intent of this conference.

The second seminar I had the privilege of attending was that of Dr. Alice Zwerling’s who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health. Dr. Zwerling’s engaging talk accentuated the importance of research in healthcare policy of global crises, such as the enduring afflictions of Tuberculosis in developing countries. What I greatly appreciated from this seminar was Zwerling’s indisputable passion for global health and her ability to resurface how this infectious disease remains at the top of the World Health Organization’s checklist.

Next up was Dr. Sachin Patel, a former chiropractor and certified Functional Medical Provider. His talk encompassed his practicing philosophy that “the doctor of the future is the patient.” As the current founder and CEO of the Living Proof Institute, he incorporates holistic approaches to patients seeking unconventional medical intervention to prevent chronic illness or improve pre-existing illnesses. These approaches target one’s lifestyle, nutrition, stress and personal attitude. Patel claims that, through meditation and healthy eating, we would never have to seek a visit to the doctor’s office. We can provide ourselves with the education and skills to nourish our bodies with positive mental energy (as persistent and chronic stress is highly correlated to poor health), nutritious whole foods and fulfilling social connections to combat preventable chronic illnesses. Of course illness can be initiated by a boundless number of variables but Patel’s approach is certainly on track to improving our overall health.

As for the food at this year’s conference, once again, a round of applause is given to the UOHS team for ensuring that all delegates and speakers refuelled with excellent quality and delicious food. The staff at PiRho Grill certainly did not disappoint with their Greek inspired custom salad bowls for lunch and Nando’s offered flavorsome meats and roasted vegetables for dinner with a side of warm rice and garlic bread (yum).

With satiated bellies, we moved on to the next event, the newest addition to the symposium: the “Panel Debate.” The topic of debate was whether psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry has played a role in causing a drug-centered approach to tackle mental health. Naturally, this topic is extremely controversial and could have likely erupted into intense argumentation. However, all the professionals who sat on either side of the panel professionally discussed this issue. Although not everyone on the panel was in agreement, each side respected the opinions of the opposing teams and mutually agreed that this controversial statement is much more complex. With the use of stringent drug safety protocols in the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatrists’ efforts to incorporate cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) in practice, this controversy can be overcome.

The final seminar was of particular interest to me (since I am a huge bioethics nerd) but it also undoubtedly captured the attention of all of its audience members. This seminar was given by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the current Vice President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). With his previous position as Executive Director of the CMA’s Office of Medical Ethics and the breadth of knowledge he currently has to offer, he shared with us the pertinent ethical issues immersed in our healthcare system. These issues include the ongoing discussion of medical aid in dying and the horrifying opioid crisis in Canada. This talk stirred opinions and guided deeper ethical questioning amongst the crowd. I truly believe that that this seminar was an excellent addition and it suggested that as healthcare continues to evolve, one must continue to ponder the ethical ramifications that the evolution has on patients.

The closing keynote was definitely a favourite of the delegates. Jessie MacAlpine, recently named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, is internationally recognized for developing both a bioherbicide and an antimalarial drug that is currently under review for patent. Although we were all very excited for her to share with us her zeal for scientific discovery, she delivered a noteworthy presentation on the significance of proper science communication in our society. She opened our eyes to the dangers of misinterpreting “bad science” and how as future professionals in healthcare or science, it is our inherent responsiblity to continuously share our scientific knowledge to others in an understandable and effective manner. The relevant examples that she used to get her point across were the “perceived” danger of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the misconstrued opinions of vaccines causing autism. Those who have correctly researched these subjects understand that most data does not conclude that GMOs or vaccines are dangerous but there is a significant proportion of people who are not convinced. It is the responsibility of scientists and healthcare providers to clearly share scientific knowledge and to effectively communicate science for everyone to comprehend, marvel and appreciate. Back to the theme, simplicity and “basics” can certainly make a profound impact.

Once again to the UOHS team, this year’s conference exceeded any of my pre-existing expectations. As a previous volunteer and executive member of UOHS 2017, it was an utter treat to be able to sit back, enjoy the conference and most importantly, to be granted with knowledge and wisdom from unprecedented professionals to inspire my future in healthcare.

Nice job, UOHS 2018!