Heather has a long career in public service, working in three different federal departments. She recently moved into Substance-Related Harms, to help tackle the opioid crisis.
This is an excerpt from a larger article written by Dr. Heather Orpana in this month’s issue of Psynopsis. Click this link to read the whole article.
My path to a career in psychology was in no way a straight one. I started an undergraduate degree in science with a specialization in physics before completing two years of a baccalaureate in nursing and then finally switching to, and graduating with, an honours degree in psychology. After spending a summer as an intern at a non-profit organization writing plain language summaries of research studies that would impact patients, I decided to pursue a career in research and applied for my doctorate. I wanted to be part of the system that creates the evidence used to promote the health of the population.
I completed my doctorate in experimental psychology at the University of Ottawa, at the same time that the university was establishing a multidisciplinary program in Population Health. I was very fortunate to be funded by Health Canada’s National Health Research and Development Program, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research during my doctorate and was hired by Health Canada to conduct policy-relevant data analysis before I had finished my program.
It has been sixteen years since I started my career in public service. During that time, I have worked in three federal departments: Health Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Every single position I have held has benefited tremendously from my training in psychological science. My first analysis project demonstrated the relationship between mental health and healthy living behaviours, in 2003, using Canada’s first national mental health survey. After working for several years at Health Canada, conducting analysis, and contributing to data policy and coordination, I moved to Statistics Canada to focus on research and analysis. There, I engaged in research in the areas of healthy weights, healthy aging, and mental health, all informed by my education in psychology.
Most recently, I have been appointed as a Senior Research Scientist and am working in the Substance-related Harms Division, supporting surveillance and applied research contributions to addressing the opioid overdose crisis. In this role, I advise on research methods and conduct research studies to inform our understanding of how the crisis is evolving.
Public health cannot address the complex problems we are faced with in the 21st century without the knowledge and skills of psychological science researchers. I have yet to find a single public health issue that is not informed by our discipline. Even public health issues that may seem like they belong more in a wet lab, such as anti-microbial resistance, can be addressed only with the incorporation of a behavioural perspective. I hope that other psychological science researchers see their value in contributing to improving the health of all Canadians.