Off the job, she grows a garden and nurtures her children; on the job, she’s leading a growing team of physicians dedicated to the public health of the people of Saskatchewan.
Dr. Julie Kryzanowski is the Senior Medical Health Officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). She’s also a wife, a mom, an amateur horticulturalist, and someone whose interest in public health began with a love of microbiology.
Dr. Julie Kryzanowski enjoys gardening with her family when she’s away from the office.
“Going back, I think I can trace my interest in public health back to some experiences I had as a university student in Regina,” she explains. “I had a summer job at what is now the Roy Romanow Provincial Lab. At the time, I thought my future career would be in the lab – in microbiology and chemistry – but I found myself becoming curious about the physician on the receiving end of the reports we were sending – particularly the medical health officers who got all the notifiable disease reports.”
Julie grew up in Saskatchewan – first in Humboldt, then Regina. She completed her undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Regina, then attended Queen’s University for medical school, and graduated in 2006. At that point, she headed to the University of Calgary, where she completed a residency program in public health and preventative medicine, and family medicine.
“As a medical student, I tried lots of different things. I didn’t go in with a preconceived idea about an area I wanted to end up in. I considered family medicine, obstetrics, surgery – and I tried them all. I ended up working with a family physician who also did work as a medical health officer. I did another elective working with a medical health officer in Kingston ON, and I really enjoyed that work, so that threw a new option at me.”
Public health had got its claws into Julie, and it still hasn’t let go.
“What I like about public health and preventative medicine is the challenge, and the opportunity to make a difference on a bigger scale, looking at population health trends, the options, and the evidence for interventions to improve population health,” she explains. “It’s different than clinical medicine, which I very much enjoy as well, but I believe the problems you encounter as a physician have their roots and their solutions in the community, so that’s what drew me to the bigger challenge of population health and disease prevention.”
After completing her residency program, both Julie and her husband, Mark Dittmer, felt Saskatchewan calling them home, so they moved back to Saskatoon in 2011, and Julie took a job as a Deputy Medical Health Officer for the former Saskatoon Health Region. They started their family and for now, Mark stays home with their two children, aged five and two.
“He’s a big support to me and my career right now,” Julie says. “I don’t think I could be doing this without him.”
As public health is on such a large scale, it can be more difficult to see success than as a physician working one-on-one with patients. But that doesn’t bother Julie.
“I think with public health and prevention, it’s not always easy to see the impact of your work – if our work is successful, it results in cases of disease that don’t occur. So it can be tough to quantify. Certainly, there’s mathematics, and modelling that can predict the success of one kind of intervention over another, but at the end of the day, when we’re doing our job, not much happens,” she smiles.
Because of this, it’s important to take the long view. Population health can be positively or negatively impacted by forces that often take years to induce change in any one direction, so it can be difficult to link a change to the impact of any one action.
“But with time, you can actually look back and piece together the chain of events that lead to a change in the community, and often public health is involved, either directly or indirectly,” Julie says.
So what exactly is Kryzanowski’s role in public health? It’s a new one, within a new organization, so her duties are still somewhat fluid, and more defined by what they’re not at this point.
“My role is different than the role of Chief Medical Health Officer for the Ministry of Health. So as a physician working in the system and a physician leader, I report to Dr. Susan Shaw, the Chief Medical Officer, and I am the lead for the Medical Health Officers who work in and for the SHA.”
“As the lead, I am also working closely with the provincial Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Health Officers with the Ministry of Health, and the Medical Health Officers who work with Health Canada and the Northern Intertribal Health Authority (NITHA). We all have similar jobs, but we work for different organizations to do that job,” she explains.
At the heart of it, what they all do is look out for and try to improve the health of the entire population of our province.
Her new job is an exciting opportunity for Julie.
“I really want to acknowledge all the people who work in public health – not just the physicians. Public health is such an interdisciplinary environment,” she notes. “It attracts really special people who are there because they truly do want to make a difference for communities, and for populations. I feel really lucky to be a physician working as part of that team.”
Julie’s goal in her new position is to build a team of physicians, of skilled professionals, who are contributing to a larger team.
“Small and mighty is what we’re all about,” she says. “We’re a small team, but we do make a big impact on the communities we work in. I want to do that more and do that better.”
Heart and soul
Away from the office, Julie focuses her time on her family.
“I help parent two kids,” she laughs when asked about what she does in her spare time.
“It’s important for us to enjoy time outside in Saskatoon,” she continues. “We’re lucky to live close to the river, so we really enjoy the Meewasin Trail, and going for bike rides to our parks and playgrounds in our neighborhood. And we go for nature walks just outside of Saskatoon, at Beaver Creek and Cranberry Flats.”
Gardening has become an interest, as well.
“I have a little plot in our front yard that I’ve been working to improve the past few years. It’s been a lot of fun, growing food with our kids as well.”
Alternate paths and artistic ambitions
Kryzanowski didn’t grow up dreaming about being a doctor, or an influencer on the health of the entire provincial population.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator or an animator,” she replies. “So this is a radically different path.”
As she grew older, her interest in science and math grew, and by the end of high school, when she was told she needed to pick something to study in university, her passion for biology and chemistry was strong enough that she began to look at medicine as a possible career.
“I enrolled in science classes as an undergrad with a lot of other students who were also pre-med,” she explains. “But ultimately, I really wasn’t sure I actually wanted to be a doctor. And I didn’t like the high pressure, competitive atmosphere of the pre-med program.”
She took a year off between her second and third years of university in order to examine her motives – did she really want to be a doctor, or was she reacting to the competition around her?
“I wanted to be sure I was doing this because I wanted it, not because of other pressures to keep up,” she says.
She joined the Katimavik program, a registered charity which educates Canadian youth through volunteer work, and for seven months, spent time between Whitehorse, Yukon; Almonte, Ontario; and Saint-Ignace, New Brunswick.
“I got work experience on each of these rotations, and it was such a privilege to see the country in that way and to meet the people I did.”
After that year, Julie went back to school, finished her undergraduate degree, and moved on to medical school as planned.
“I decided to become a physician in part because I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference, and it was a job that at the end of the day, I would know I was trying to help people.”
Her focus has clearly been more on science since she was a teen. She gets her creative fix through her husband, who has a strong artistic side. He’s a graphic artist and designer who does photography and paints in his spare time.
“He’s artistic, and I live vicariously through him, to some extent,” she smiles.
Get your shot
One thing Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, Senior Medical Health Officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, believes in strongly is receiving an annual flu shot.
“The best way to protect our patients, our families, our co-workers and ourselves from seasonal influenza is through vaccination and regular hand washing,” she says. “A flu shot not only protects ourselves from different strains of the flu, it also protects vulnerable populations, like babies, the elderly, and the immune-compromised by preventing it from spreading.”
All Saskatchewan Health Authority employees and physicians can obtain the vaccine from their local Occupational Health and Safety department, or you can visit any public health clinic across the province, some physician and nurse practitioner offices and local pharmacies - the vaccine is always free.
A complete listing of flu clinics offered by the Saskatchewan Health Authority can be found at http://www.4flu.ca or by calling HealthLine 811.