Book Review: Upstream Medicine

By Janelle Vandergrift

From the Catalyst, Summer 2018

Upstream Medicine: Doctors for a Healthy Society

Edited by Andrew Bresnahan, Mahli Brindamour, Christopher Charles, and Ryan Meili

Purich Publishing, 2017

Reviewed by Janelle Vandergrift

It is hard not to be inspired by the depth of first-hand knowledge and the dedication of the impressive roster of physicians interviewed in Upstream Medicine. The book is a collaborative project between Upstream, a non-profit in Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. In this book, various medical students have interviewed established doctors about the social determinants of health, also-known-as upstream health issues, of the patients they see. They include poverty, refugee health care, climate change, and housing, among other. Upstream was started by doctor Ryan Meili, who in his interview, nods to his Catholic faith and inspiration from social justice teachings and liberation theology.

The easy-to-read interview format allows space for personal reflection and stories. Interviewees seemed to find it refreshing to talk about their work with someone early on in their careers. Rudolf Virchow’s quote, “politics is medicine on a larger scale” was often repeated, and the book often reads as a call to political action for doctors.

Throughout reading, I found myself equally encouraged by this movement of doctors engaging in advocacy and yet tentative about placing them as the main champions of public health and progressive social policy. Other professions and organizations were mentioned in many of the interviews, and the book touches on the privilege and platform doctors experience. But my hope is that we can likewise amplify the expertise of other medical and social professionals, policy wonks, lawyers, politicians, churches, activists, and organizations to create the healthy society we all need.

  • Janelle Vandergrift

    Janelle is a former policy analyst at CPJ. Janelle came to CPJ with a strong belief that people of faith have a profound duty to promote a world that is equitable, inclusive and full of life. Born in Edmonton, Janelle grew up in various Christian Reformed communities in B.C. and Alberta. During her Masters in Social Work at Carleton University, Janelle focused on both macro and micro social work including women’s issues, community development and food security. She holds a BA in Sociology from Calvin College.

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