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Don’t settle for less, advises health equity expert

Gurwinder Gill sees samosas and spring rolls as a good starting point. “They bring people into the room for a discussion, but my hope is that people are now beyond that, that they realize diversity is about respecting differences.”

As the Regional Director of Health Equity and Inclusion for William Osler Health System, Gill has oversight of the organizations’ commitment to equity.

She has been leading and managing programs and strategies in diversity, equity and inclusion for over 25 years both at the national and international levels. 

Gill was an active member of the World Health Organization’s international task force for culturally competent hospitals and is also a member of the City of Brampton’s Inclusion and Equity Committee.

She pioneered the first language-specific/culturally appropriate Long Term Care Day Centre in Peel for those with Alzheimer’s/chronic disabilities.

Some question the need for “culturally competent” hospitals.  

“People want to dedicate resources to clinical care, but we know that healthcare is about non-clinical aspects, too,” she says. “Everyone in the system should know of the differences individuals come in with. If they don’t, errors can take place. If we can’t cross language barriers, how are patients going to understand the diagnosis, how are they going to take care of themselves after they are released from hospital? A lack of awareness can lead to infringement of ethical and human rights. Some wear a turban or the hijab. These could become safety issues in mental health wards, but we also have to be sensitive to religious needs. We all carry biases and prejudices, explicit or implicit. All it takes is a look or a glance to convey it. To break the trust.”

 Gill actually wrote a book, The (Brown) Elephant in the Room, on the subject as an educational tool to help people understand the diverse health practices in the South Asian community, but it is transferrable to other communities. 

Her family is originally from Punjab, but Gill was born in Singapore and raised in England. She and her husband Narinderjit moved to Canada in 1990.

“We came during a recession, no one was hiring. We were among the fortunate ones, we could speak the language, were aware of the culture. It still took us two years to find our feet. People tend to forget how it was for them when they were newcomers when they say things like, ‘Stick with it’, or ‘Don’t give up’. Those are easier said than done when one has to put food on the table. I’m reminded of the challenges we faced every day in the course of my work, and mentoring formally and informally has become second nature. 

“But cliched as it may seem, I also tell newcomers not to settle for anything less than what God has put them on this earth for. When a foreign-trained physician or nurse tells me they can’t find work here in their field, I tell them to find a job – any job – and then find a way to get back to their field. Feed your family, but find a way to use your skills and training.”

Posted: Feb 2, 2019

February 2020

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