'Een 'thu | I am
Dr. Shannon Waters is a Public Health & Preventative Medicine Physician,
Environmental Connector, Watershed Advocate, and Weaver of words.
The Full Story
‘Een ‘thu/I am Shannon Waters. My maternal roots are Hul’qumi’num (part of a larger First Nations group referred to as Coast Salish). I am a member of Stz’uminus First Nation with many family ties to Cowichan Tribes/Quw'utsun. My paternal roots are Hungarian, Swedish and Scottish. I was born in Comox, BC and within a couple, short months was journeying with my family across this place now called Canada.
I have always enjoyed learning and went to the University of Calgary after high school to complete a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology. With the encouragement of family members I applied to medical school and was accepted to attend the University of British Columbia (UBC). After four years I was one of the first two residents who trained in UBC’s nascent First Nations Family Practice Program. Upon completing residency I chose to return to my home community of Cowichan to practice family medicine.
While it was an honour to work in my home community I became largely frustrated with the health system's focus on sickness, I instead wanted to focus on what keeps us well. After a couple of years I returned to UBC for speciality training in Public Health and Preventive Medicine, which included a Masters in Public Health. Due to my interest in Indigenous Health I spent time during my training at First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB), Health Canada in Vancouver, BC. Upon completing this residency I chose to stay working at FNIHB as the Director of Health Surveillance, I also became a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC.
This was a very exciting time to be in First Nations Health in BC as work was underway to create the first province-wide First Nations-run health organisation. On October 1, 2013, Health Canada transferred its role in the design, management, and delivery of First Nations health programming in BC to the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). It was inspiring to work for an organisation with the vision of Healthy, Self-determining and Vibrant BC First Nations Children, Families and Communities. Around that time, I worked on FNHA's senior executive team as the Acting Senior Medical Officer.
My husband and I eventually decided to return to Cowichan, so we could be close to family and raise our daughter in her home territory. This transition brought other changes, including an organisational move to Island Health to work as a Medical Director for Comox Valley/Campbell River, Excellence in Maternal Care for Aboriginal Women & Families, and Plan of Excellence in Cultural Safety. I desired a return to Public Health and Preventive Medicine however, so I took on a friend’s maternity leave at the BC Provincial Health Officer’s Office as the Indigenous Health Physician Advisor. To our family’s joy, I became pregnant and had our second daughter while fulfilling this role.
With the birth of my second child, through career coaching, I reflected on what type of work I wanted to do next. I was somewhat surprised to discover that a local Medical Health Officer role seemed to fulfil the aspects I was looking for. The impact of the devastating, ongoing Drug Poisoning Crisis in BC created funding for a Medical Health Officer position specific to the Cowichan Valley Region. I started in this role when my youngest daughter was just seven months old. It is an honour, privilege and challenge to hold this role within my home territory.
A Focus on Connection
Health data is an aspect I use to help define priorities in my work as a Medical Health Officer. Data shows that climate change is our most significant threat, mental health conditions are where we have the highest burden, and supporting maternal/child/family affliction is where we will have the highest return on investment. In honouring my teachings of focusing on “what we want to see”, and the journey of the first peoples in our ancestral story of “Those Who Fell From The Sky”, I focus my daily work on connection with our environment, mental well-being and maternal/child/family well-being. These areas are all deeply connected and activation in any area supports the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual wellness of all.