What kind of impact will you choose to make?

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by Emma McDermott

“Remember That Every Single Day Each One Of Us Lives On This Planet, We Make Some Kind Of Impact. And We Get To Choose.”

Jane Goodall shared these words at the end of her opening plenary talk for the 26th Canadian Conference on Global Health in October 2020, and personally, I think it set the tone for the entire conference. Focusing on Global Health in a Changing Climate, this year’s virtual conference was a call to action and I was honored to have been selected by the CCGHR to attend as a bursary recipient. Below I’ve complied a few of my biggest takeaways from the conference, but I also encourage you to check some of the sessions for yourself (one of the perks of having a virtual conference is that the sessions were all recorded).

Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard

Put on by the Emerging Leaders For Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare (ELESH), the first workshop I attended provided an introduction to planetary health, an opportunity for participants to brainstorm how we want to see health research become more sustainable, and was run entirely by students. Together, we examined all aspects of the research process from what we are researching (content), to how we are doing it (conduct), and even how we are teaching it (curriculum). It was encouraging to hear all the possible suggestions but the main takeaway I took from the presentation was that none of these ideas will be possible unless we speak up and ask for them. So please, if you are a student who has an idea (or ideas) of how your program of study can make a change to help the environment, please take a few moments to have your voice heard and advocate for that change.

Multiple other sessions throughout the conference highlighted advocacy best practices, including an Advocacy 101 workshop by RESULTS Canada. As Jane Goodall said “It’s not changing the facts. It’s the way you present the facts”, so I would highly recommend checking out these portions of the conference or connecting with a local advocacy group (like ELESH) if you need help getting started.

Sometimes It’s The Little Things

One of the reoccurring things I learned is that sometimes it’s the little things that can make the big impact. The 2020 CCGH demonstrated this throughout the conference by using gender inclusive language and taking the time to recognize the achievements of others (a quick shoutout and thank you to all the instructors and mentors of the CCGHR’s Knowledge Translation summer course that were recognized on the Canadian Women’s in Global Health list!). Thinking about the climate crisis can easily be overwhelming, but taking a step back to appreciate the little steps we’ve made so far may make our end goal feel a little more within reach. Once again to quote Jane Goodall, “It’s the little choices we make each day”, so what choices (big or small) are you going to make today?

Even though we didn’t have the opportunity to gather and network together in person, the virtual CCGH 2020 was an amazing (and eco-friendly) learning experience. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to human health and our planet, but I signed off from the conference feeling optimistic from learning about the positive steps that are being taken and eager to continue working towards creating change and a more sustainable future. Thank you again to the CCGHR for selecting me as a recipient of their 2020 CCGH Bursary Award and thank you all for taking a few moments to read this post. I hope you and your families are all staying safe and I look forward to hopefully meeting you all in-person at the 2021 Canadian Conference on Global Health to hear about what kind of impact you have chosen to make from here on out.


Emma McDermott is a second year medical student at Dalhousie University who is passionate about global health, sustainable development, and health equity. She was proudly raised in rural Prince Edward Island and strives to emulate the “Think Global. Act Local.” mindset. She previously completed her BSc (Hons) in Biology from the University of Prince Edward Island and a joint Masters in Global Affairs degree from the University of Prince Edward Island and the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain. She learned about the CCGHR this past summer when she participated in the inaugural Knowledge Translation summer course and is looking forward to continue to work with the CCGHR in the future. Feel free to connect with her via email (emma.mcdermott@dal.ca).