Physician, author, and activist
Ryan Meili, a Saskatoon-based physician who penned A Healthy Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy, recently caught up with the Carillon to talk about his life in medicine.
Who is Ryan Meili?
Ryan Meili is just some guy. That’s a strange question (laughs). I’m a person who’s interested in health and social justice. That’s who Ryan Meili is.
From my perspective, it seems like everything you do is committed to helping others. Where does this come from?
Well, I hope that’s true. I think we all have to constantly question our motivations. But the roots of what I’ve chosen to do – the theme of health equity and trying to serve others – really comes from my experiences as a young man. At 19, 20, I was a little bit lost in my path in life, trying to figure out what to do, and asking myself the question, “What matters in life?” Life is short. We’re only here once and for a brief time, so I asked myself what kind of life I’d like to lead. For me, what made the most sense was being of service and taking care as best I can of people who need help.
Before that, when you were growing up, what did you want to do for a living?
You know, I was never sure. I wasn’t one of these kids who said I wanted to be a doctor, but I used to talk about being a farmer like my dad and a writer, so I could cruise around in my tractor in the summertime, making up stories, and writing them down in the winter (laughs). I often said I wasn’t smart enough to be a farmer, so I went into medicine. I guess the writing thing did happen, to some degree.
After you decided to pursue medicine, did you ever question if it was the right path for you?
It’s been pretty clear for me. It wasn’t easy for me to get in. Actually, I applied three times and it wasn’t until I applied the third time that I got in. That persistence, I think, is a reflection of me not seeing myself in any other role that fit me very well. I also think the opportunities that not getting in right away presented – the possibilities of working in South and Central America – gave me a chance to mature and develop the idea of what I wanted to achieve through medicine. It made perfect sense for me to do it and, even with obstacles, I pursued it.
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year?
Let me see… I didn’t make any specific resolutions. I saw a study the other day, which surprised me, that said New Year’s resolutions actually work – there’s a higher rate of sticking with a goal when made at New Year’s. But I didn’t make one this year.
What are your goals at this point?
I’ve been working with an organization called Upstream. Upstream is all about bringing the concept of the social determinants of health – the idea that what makes the biggest differences in our health isn’t our access to medicine so much as how much money we make, our level of education, the types of work we have, our housing, nutrition. I’ve been really working to try to popularize that idea. This year, we’re doing a major event in Ottawa where we have Sir Michael Marmot, who came up with the term “social determinants of health,” coming to talk to Canadians about this idea of bringing a health-equity lens to all of government, often called “health in all policies,” or “health equity in all policies,” which is the idea that it’s not just Ministry of Health that needs to be thinking about health outcomes. We need to be thinking about the economy, justice, education – all of the different departments of government should judge their success based on their impact on health outcomes. My goal there is to use his presence to shift the dialogue in Canada towards a greater focus on health.
How would you like to be remembered when it’s all said and done?
Well, you started the interview with this idea that I’m working to help others. If I’m going to be remembered, I hope people think that’s what I was here to do. That’s simply what I’m trying to do.