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Comparative Health Care Systems in Canada and the US

May 11, 2009

Above: Mary Ellen Purkis, University of Victoria (left), provided a lecture on health care in Canada to faculty and students at UW Tacoma. Purkis was invited to present by Janice Laakso, Associate Professor, Social Work program, UW Tacoma.

By Janice Laakso

UW Tacoma campus was pleased to bring Mary Ellen Purkis, Dean of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria to our campus on May 11. Dr. Purkis gave a lecture entitled “The Good and Bad of a Universal Health Care System: What America Can Learn from Canada.” This was a very timely topic as the US grapples with ideas on reforming our health care system.Janice Laakso is an Associate Professor in the Social Work program, UW Tacoma, and an affiliated faculty member in Canadian Studies.

Dr. Purkis described the history of Canada’s health system, the five principles on which it was founded, and both the positive and negative attributes. Those who were present learned that no system is perfect but that some common myths about health care in Canada are untrue. Some of the lessons learned in Canada, according to Dr. Purkis, are that major social change requires leadership with strong vision, major social change can be expected to produce strong resistance from interest groups, and proposed revisions in a health care system must be met with effective responses. All of these lessons are applicable to the current political climate in the US as President Obama and Congress begin to tackle this complicated situation. The rewards of universality and portability of health care, the advantages of a single-payer system, and the lower costs to citizens were likely the most important messages received by the audience.

In addition to lecturing, Dr. Purkis met with members of the nursing and social policy faculties, who forged connections that will continue beyond her one-day visit. These connections illustrate the value of social and academic exchanges.

This project was supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.