New Study: Tensions and Opportunities in the Roles of Senior Public Health Officials in Canada: A Qualitative Study

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust senior public health officials into the spotlight. The provincial/territorial Chief Medical Officers of Health, and the federal Chief Public Health Officer of Canada (herein all described as CMOHs) are the senior public servants who are simultaneously positioned as public health professionals with independent expertise, senior advisors to government, government spokespeople and, for some, designated protectors of the public health interest. Yet their day-to-day roles, responsibilities, and mandates are routinely misunderstood.

To address this challenge, the Global Strategy Lab has an ongoing program of research on CMOHs. The most recent paper, “Tensions and Opportunities in the Roles of Senior Public Health Officials in Canada: A Qualitative Study” was written by GSL Research Director Adele Cassola and Senior Investigator Patrick Fafard and was just published in the academic journal Health Policy. The paper offers the first systematic account of the CMOH role drawing on a range of source including interviews with the current or former CMOH for all provinces and the federal government.

This study examines the tensions associated with having CMOHs positioned within the senior levels of the public service and the strategies these officials use to balance their internal- and external-facing roles. It also highlights the tradeoffs among different institutional design options to inform decisions about the structure of the CMOH position in different contexts. While this research is based in large part on interviews with current and former CMOHs in Canada, it focuses on the institutional design of the position of CMOH, not the performance of the specific people who serve in this role.

Read the full study here.

Download the summary document.


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