Strengthening communities through research

Gerald McKinley, PhD, believes that giving back to the community isn’t a single event, it’s a responsibility that should be fulfilled over a life-time. The assistant professor puts this belief into practice through his research and its application with First Nations communities across Ontario.

While on campus, McKinley works from the Western Centre for Public Health and Family Medicine – a building, which fittingly represents the growing concern for solving health disparities to create healthier communities across the globe. His research, itself, specializes in the social determinants of Aboriginal health in Ontario and he utilizes community based and ethnographic research methodologies. Currently he is exploring the role of social change and adaptation in the development of health outcomes in Northwestern Ontario.

It’s through the application of this work in First Nations communities, where McKinley derives the greatest amount of satisfaction and pride. He and his team are working with communities to reduce depression, self-harm and suicide in youth. Recently they have been able to implement youth groups that use knowledge translation to address these issues.

One of McKinley’s proudest moments with his work came recently when he and his team held a youth event on Manitoulin Island in partnership with Mnaamodzawin Health Services.

“Within weeks, I heard back from the health centre that 15 youth formed their own group and started planning events to address the same issues we are,” he said. “That’s really what we’re after – immediate changes and youth development are why we do this.”

McKinley believes he’s grown personally and professionally through his commitment to the community, which has been incredibly satisfying. That’s all in addition to the knowledge he’s gained about the communities in which he works.

“I’ve been able to learn the importance of considering other people’s perspectives and histories, which has helped me develop high levels of empathy and understanding the importance of listening,” he said. “There isn’t one solution that’s good for everyone and giving back to these communities has taught me that – creating attainable solutions to issues such as suicide is rewarding because you get to witness people empowering themselves and others.”

McKinley encourages anyone who is able to take their research back to the community – it will be transforming and satisfying.