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People to watch: Danielle Martin

December 30, 2012

Toronto Star

Theresa Boyle

It’s Dr. Danielle Martin’s turn to lead the weekly grand rounds education session at Women’s College Hospital, and the family physician has chosen a subject near and dear to her: preserving and improving Canada’s medicare system.

Articulate and self-assured, she shares a PowerPoint presentation with 45 colleagues over a Thai food lunch.

“Is our health-care system unsustainable?” she asks rhetorically.

“I would say sustainability is in the eye of the beholder,” she answers, diving into an explanation of how a two-decade agenda of tax cuts has left the appearance that health-care spending is out of control.

At only 37, Martin has established herself as a leader in the debate over the future of Canada’s health-care system. She is chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, was a member of the Health Council of Canada and is a recipient of the Canadian Medical Association Award for Young Leaders.

In April, her impact will grow when she takes on the position of vice-president, medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for me,” she says, “and I’m glad I can stay at Women’s College where I have built a community of practice and established relationships with my patients over nearly a decade.”

In a hostile health-care environment where big bucks are at stake, Martin goes out on a limb. Most recently, she has spoken out against private endoscopy clinics that are extra-billing patients, and about the failed bid by U.S.-controlled Centric Health to buy the Shouldice hernia hospital.

Martin comes by her progressive views naturally. Her father is labour movement activist and educator D’Arcy Martin.

Her mother, Anita Shilton, former dean of continuing education at Ryerson, emigrated with her parents from Egypt to Canada in the ’50s. After the family’s arrival, Shilton’s father developed a cardiac condition. Because medicare did not yet exist, the family was financially ruined.

“My parents have both been small-p politically active. It’s from them that I get my values, my sense of equity and the desire to make a contribution in the world.”

Martin honed her public speaking skills while on the debating team at McGill University, where she earned an undergrad degree in science.

From there, she landed at job at Queen’s Park, working as an assistant to Liberal health critic Gerard Kennedy.

While she has toyed with the idea of running for public office herself, she has chosen instead to try and effect change from a different vantage point. With a letter of recommendation from Kennedy, she enrolled in medical school at the University of Western Ontario.

“I was not sure that I would practise medicine when I went to medical school,” she says. “I thought I was going to learn and get an education and understand how the system works, so that I could better advocate for improvement, but then I fell in love with family medicine.”

After medical school, Martin worked for five years as a family doctor in underserviced areas in northern Ontario.

Today, she practises two days a week at Woman’s College and also works as a lecturer in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.

She lives in west-end Toronto with her partner, labour lawyer Steven Barrett, and their 3-year-old daughter, Isa.

In April, she hopes to have completed a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Toronto. Her new job at Women’s College starts immediately after she finishes the program.

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