Alumni Spotlight: Karl Kabasele
University of Toronto Public Health & Preventive Medicine Residency, Class of 2001
Clinical Consultant, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
What degrees or training do you have? From what schools?
MD from McGill Medical School
MPH from Harvard School of Public Health
FRCPC in Public Health & Preventive Medicine (U of T residency program)
When did you graduate from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health?
I completed Residency training class of 2001
How did you become interested in your field?
When I was a medical student at McGill, I had the opportunity to travel to Kumasi, Ghana to work on a summer project in public health. It was during that trip that I first realized the scope and power of public health practice, and I got my first inkling that this was the direction that I wanted to take my career. Numerous mentors helped to shape my career along the way. In particular, the late Dr. Sheela Basrur was instrumental in teaching me about the importance of clear communication when it comes to educating the public about health.
What do you enjoy most about your current career position?
What I enjoy the most about my career in public health is the variety of ways that I can positively influence the health of the population. It is a joy to be able to have such a wide range of experiences within my public health career. In my clinical practice at CAMH, I’m able to effect primary and secondary disease prevention as well as health promotion and health protection. In my capacity as Assistant Professor at U of T, I get to share my knowledge and experience with future health leaders. And as a health correspondent I’m able to educate the public, empowering them with knowledge to make better decisions about their health.
In what ways has your experience at the School had an impact on your career and who you are today?
My five years as a resident in the Public Health and Preventive Medicine residency program helped to prepare me for a medical career where in addition to seeing individual patients in a clinical setting, we also think of entire communities as our patients. Medical training gives you a particular insight and perspective into addressing wellness and disease in the context of the individual patient. My residency training taught me a new way of thinking about health from a population perspective, in terms of protecting the health of communities, preventing disease, and promoting better health practices. It also gave me a new vocabulary to discuss ideas and innovate with my colleagues in public health.
How did your experiences at the School help you to overcome obstacles you've faced as a public health professional?
One of the most important career lessons I learned in the Public Health and Preventive Medicine residency program is the fact that building good relationships with colleagues and stakeholders is crucial to our mission of improving population health. As residents, we built a foundation of knowledge from the detailed information we acquired in the course material and rotations, but one of the important broader themes of our training was learning that we must build strong networks of committed and motivated people to accomplish our goals.
Describe any significant relationships with fellow students or faculty. How did these relationships help you?
I made some strong and lasting friendships with many of my instructors and fellow residents in the program. As far as my classmates were concerned, going through the grueling process of preparing for Royal College exams together was an excellent way for us to create resilient bonds! I have had the pleasure of working on the front lines of public health practice with many of my mentors and fellow alumni over the years, and have maintained especially close friendships with two colleagues from my graduating year, Dr. Michael Finkelstein and Dr. Howard Shapiro, who are still doing inspired, innovative work in the public health system.
What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students who aspire to follow a similar career path?
My advice would be to take advantage of all of the world-class thinkers and excellent resources that DLSPH has to offer! Use your imagination, find out what you’re passionate about in this broad field of public health, and then find mentorship from faculty and classmates – they will be pleased to help you to establish your place in the profession. I have chosen a fairly unconventional path in public health, but I was fortunate to be in the kind of open-minded environment that allowed me to find my own way.
What was your favorite course at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health?
My favorite course during my time in the Public Health and Preventive Medicine residency program was called “The Canadian Health Care System”, taught by Dr. Raisa Deber. Her brilliance and sense of humor brought the material to life, and her in-depth appreciation for the social and political environment in which our health care system operates gave us a profound understanding of how best to navigate through it.
Do you have a favorite or funny story about your time here?
I remember the time the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton came to give a guest lecture to the residents in the Public Health and Preventive Medicine program. At the time he was a Toronto City Councilor and he was quite famous for riding his bicycle around town. That particularly day he was running late, but when he did arrive, boy did he know how to make an entrance! He burst into the room, walking his bicycle, helmet still on and one pant leg rolled up to avoid the chain he had doubtlessly been pedaling just moments before. He entered the room talking (practically in midsentence), and didn’t let up until he was on his way out. He gave a very eloquent apology for his lateness, and launched into his speech as he set down his bike in a corner of the room, removed his helmet, rolled down his pant leg, and rolled up his sleeves. He almost mesmerized us with an impassioned hour-long monologue about the importance of engaging communities as stakeholders in the work of public health. Jack would have put the best filibusterer to shame – I’m not sure he paused to breathe even once! When he left us that day in a swirl of bicycle spokes and earnest conviction, I think we all felt that we had witnessed a unique display of thoughtful leadership, which of course he went on to share with the rest of the country until his untimely passing.
What would you say to a prospective student who is considering the School?
The DLSPH offers a unique opportunity to discover your own place in public health, where medicine and scientific research meets advocacy and activism. The possibilities are infinite for what you can learn and accomplish. And because ultimately the DLSPH is about people, the school will also be enriched by the unique contributions you bring as well.
To connect with Karl, visit his LinkedIn profile.