An unconventional path through medicine

Dr. Jennifer Arvanitis

By Jesica Hurst, BA'14

Dr. Jennifer Arvanitis, MD’93, always knew she wanted to be a physician. With a genuine passion for helping people and a strong interest in the sciences, it was a career choice that just made sense.

“I don’t even remember consciously making the decision to pursue an education that would lead me down this road,” said Dr. Arvanitis, who graduated medical school as Jennifer Henry. “It was just something I always remember wanting for myself.”

What Dr. Arvanitis didn’t expect was how many twists and turns her career path would take once she completed medical school at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

After spending the first seven years of her career in comprehensive family practice, a chance encounter at a conference in Grand Bend would set her on a different route. Dr. Arvanitis met Dr. Larry Librach, who is known as the champion and pioneer of palliative medicine within Canada. Mesmerized by his passion for the field, she connected with him about potential mentorship opportunities and he facilitated a shadowing opportunity for her in Toronto.

Six months later, she was offered a full-time role practising community-based palliative medicine with the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and later became a lead physician with its home care program.

Throughout that role, Dr. Arvanitis began assuming a variety of leadership and administrative responsibilities and enrolled in several leadership development courses. Concurrently, she was speaking with colleagues who were coroners, and they opened her eyes to the fascinating work of death investigation. It didn’t take long until she wanted to become involved.

She secured a position as an investigating coroner in Toronto in 2014 and was quickly promoted to Regional Supervising Coroner for Central East Ontario at the Office of the Chief Coroner. She now oversees all coroner activities for Durham, York Region and Muskoka.

“Having the opportunity to take on a position like this really speaks to the fact that a career in

medicine offers so many experiences that medical students can’t possibly be aware of”

— Dr. Jennifer Arvanitis

“Even though I knew I would be giving up my work with patients, I was so fascinated by the chance to serve the criminal justice system and the opportunity to have a broader impact on public safety and system issues,” she explained. “It’s exciting work, and it was highly unexpected — I never imagined I would end up in a role like this when I graduated from medical school.”

In her current role, Dr. Arvanitis mentors and supervises approximately 25 coroners. She is also assisting with the redevelopment of the Office’s new strategic plan to redefine how death investigation service delivery models are rolled out across Ontario.

She frequently has the opportunity to use some of her clinical skills, as she works collaboratively with forensic pathologists to determine what investigative steps they will take for each individual body. She also deals with complex grief work, as families often have unanswered questions about their loved one's death.

“Having the opportunity to take on a position like this really speaks to the fact that a career in medicine offers so many experiences that medical students can’t possibly be aware of,” she said.

Dr. Arvanitis gives credit to the medical training she received at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry for giving her the knowledge and expertise to take on her variety of roles.

“The quality of academic and clinical instruction that I received during my medical training at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry was outstanding, and laid a foundation that enabled me to enter the field with confidence and skill,” she said. “The commitment to education that the faculty members demonstrated was enviable and played a big role in my decision to weave opportunities for teaching into my clinical and administrative roles.”

While Dr. Arvanitis doesn’t expect to make any further career changes, she explained that her next big focus will be on guiding her three children, who will soon be entering their teenage years.

“It is important that they have the type of guidance and support that I once had as they begin to make important decisions that will set them on successful paths throughout their lives,” she said.