Dr. Johanne Morel: a beacon in the North

Dr. Johanne Morel

Why she won
Since 1981, Dr. Johanne Morel has been using her excellent clinical skills to faithfully serve Northern Quebec’s Inuit and Cree communities as a pediatrician. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Morel spent six years teaching future nurse practitioners at McGill University, has organized and contributed to numerous conferences on pediatric care, and served on the Advisory Committee of the Canadian Institute of Child Health.

Dr. Morel was also a key agent in the founding and development of Minnie’s Hope Social Pediatric Centre, where she currently serves as medical leader. Minnie’s Hope is a non-profit organization that supports over 140 children and families in the Nunavik region of Quebec. Minnie’s Hope offers families the opportunity to be seen, in a welcoming environment, by a multidisciplinary team made up of a social worker, physician, and a Cree or Inuk educator.

For over 40 years, Dr. Morel has been making a difference by dedicating her time, skills and efforts to improving the health care of a vulnerable population of young people. 

Read: Awesome docs: The Medical Post Awards celebrate Canada’s physicians

What one judge said…
For over 40 years Dr. Johanne Morel’s life work has been dedicated to the infants, children and adolescents of the Inuit and Cree communities of Quebec’s far North. Her unwavering commitment to ensuring the vulnerable and socially disadvantaged receive optimal health care is inspiring and laudable. Her vision culminated in the creation of Minnie’s Hope Social Paediatric Centre, providing a beacon of hope to the children and a pathway to realizing their true potential.”


What has been most gratifying about this work that you do?
What’s special about my work is that it’s essentially working in a transcultural environment with the Cree and Inuit people of Quebec. The most gratifying part would be to work through this cultural barrier, to learn about the cultures of others, which has led to some understanding of my own culture and where I came from. So, that has been incredibly gratifying, as well as probably the most challenging part of my practice.

What is something that your physician colleagues might find surprising about you?
Maybe that before I came to work here, I never even contemplated this work. This is something that happened by accident, and sometimes just following where life brings you can change the rest of your life. It was straight out of medical school and out of a simple internship. I had no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had a good friend who put her name on the list of locums for Northern Quebec. She accepted a job in Chisasibi, and it changed my life, not hers.

What are you most proud of in terms of your career?
What I am most proud of is probably the social pediatric project we started in the community I am in right now. In December of 2008, I was driving and listening to a story on Radio Canada. The person being interviewed said, “Is there anyone out there who cares about our children?” I'd been a pediatrician there for years and years. I felt really touched by that. And I had to stop my car and think, “What can we do? How can we improve what we're doing?” And this led, years later, to the development of this social pediatric project called Minnie’s Hope, which is thriving right now. 

What is something about yourself that you’re working to improve?
I think it’s being in the moment, being more and more present with the person I am sitting with when I'm working or even outside of my work life. We are so busy and we always think in the future. I need to work on that because it's easy to be carried away and think, "Oh, what do I have to do next?"

How do you turn around a bad day?
A few things: paying attention to the small joys, the little things, whether it's the colour of the sky the light, the day, or the smile of a child. When it's really hard, I try to remember that we're all in this together. It’s the common humanity. It’s the human destiny. Nothing is ever easy. And when it gets hard, I try to pull myself away from the earth and watch it turn and roll in space. Then I realize that the concerns I have are maybe not that significant in the larger scheme of things.

What’s your secret indulgence?
I close the door and I put on old French songs and I dance and sing and have a good time. I have a terrible voice!

No pressure, but what’s next?
In fact, what’s next is I have no plan, because I find that life delivers the future. I did not plan to follow my friend up North 40 years ago, so I cannot say what’s next, because at that time, if you had asked me what's next, I would never have said coming up North. So, I don't plan. I just wait for life to bring whatever is next. I’m always open and receptive, which has served me very well, because I keep meeting people, and bringing all kinds of resources to Minnie’s Hope. If I meet someone who tells me about their wonderful nutrition project, I connect them with Minnie’s Hope, and now we have a nutrition project, and so on. I think there's no plan for me—just being receptive to what life has to offer.

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