Global Health Spotlight: Joy Fitzgibbon


Joy Fitzgibbon is Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program at Trinity College in the University of Toronto and a Fellow of College. Joy’s research focuses on the ways in which we can respond more effectively and compassionately to human suffering in the areas of global health policy and violence against women. She is exploring new modalities of pedagogy that enable us to learn, live and serve our communities in integrated and sustainable ways. She lectured as faculty in the International Paediatric Emergency Medicine Elective and in the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program and submitted policy reports the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament and the Canadian International Development Agency (with Janice Stein). She was honoured to join a number of her colleagues in receiving the inaugural Chancellor William C. Graham Award for service to the Trinity College community. 

1. What area of global health do you work in? Why are you passionate about this area?

I focus on the health needs of our most vulnerable communities. I am particularly interested in the needs of those who are excluded from the social and economic benefits of our communities—the poor and disenfranchised, women, homeless communities, Indigenous Peoples. My research in my doctorate explored access to gold standard medical care for those suffering from drug resistant tuberculosis—exploring the impact of Harvard’s Partners in Health on WHO’s TB control policy. I am beginning a research project now on sexual violence against women in conflict zones. To know is to serve and it is a privilege to learn from these communities and those who walk directly with them. They teach me so much about strength, integrity and my own areas of brokenness. They inspire me by their capacity to accomplish things that many say is impossible.

2. Who were your mentors and how did they support you in your academic journey?

There are a wide range of people who have been most encouraging to me on my journey. I will start with those who influenced me in my doctorate and then move to my current professional life. My dissertation supervisor, Professor Janice Stein, taught me so many things including how to produce policy relevant research that is academically sound and that identifies the most important needs of our communities and how to animate ideas within and throughout institutions. Professor David Cameron also taught me a great deal about policy relevant research, engaging with government, the ethos of the civil service and a what compassion and integrity in mentorship and leadership looks like. Professor Ron Manzer inspired me with his encouragement at critical points in my research, honouring my voice and vision for global health policy and teaching me the value of engaging in conversations between public policy and administration and international relations literatures—two subsections of political science that do not always collaborate with each other. Professor Lou Pauly was immensely supportive in encouraging my research on international institutions during my doctorate and has continued to support and encourage me in leadership and research at Trinity. Professor Franklyn Griffiths consistently encouraged me to conduct inductive and angular, creative research—helping me to develop my own voice in my journey. Professor Sylvia Bashevkin also taught me how to approach my teaching and research in a way that honours my own voice and well-being at critical points in my degree. Dr. James Orbinski was a terrific encouragement on all matters global health as he was doing graduate work at U of T at the same time I was beginning my doctorate. He introduced me to our colleagues, Dr. Jim Kim and Dr. Paul Farmer, at Harvard’s Partners in Health who subsequently featured prominently in my PhD research. All of these people played an important part in my intellectual journey.

In my current professional life, I have a life coach who has his doctorate and has significant experience outside the academy. He gives me strong, sound advice on how I allocate my time, how I develop my leadership skills and how I honour my own voice in research, writing, leadership and life. I speak and meet regularly with him. I learn much from my colleagues at Trinity—I will not even begin to list them but they include gifted individuals across the senior leadership team in the College. They are wonderfully vibrant people from whom I learn so much about research, teaching and transformational leadership. A dear colleague, with whom I served on the Board of a humanitarian aid agency and who is a lawyer, professor and a former senior civil servant in Ottawa—has also given me tremendous advice as I seek to apply my scholarly work into counsel for policy communities and particularly not-for-profit organizations. He has shown me how to do so with honour, vitality and integrity. Finally, my parents—Bob and Hope Fitzgibbon. They are not mentors, of course, in the formal sense but the work of mentors would not have had the impact they did without the foundation my parents laid in my life. My late Mom, who was a nurse and a deeply compassionate person, and my Dad who served for years with World Vision and is the kindest and best of men, both instilled in me the commitment to stand with those who are vulnerable and to see the possibilities for goodness and transformation in this world and in people. They taught me to be faithful.

As you can see..this is quite a list and it is an abbreviated version!

3. What is your advice for young people seeking mentorship?

Allow your mentorship relationships to develop organically. There are formal mentorship programs that work too—so give that a try. But look for people that you connect with professionally AND personally. Ask if you can meet with them—-to ask their advice on your own professional or personal journey. Let it be natural. Develop the relationship in an ongoing step by step way. Be faithful to who you are and look for opportunities to connect with people who respect that. You will change and grow—that is the point—but be wise and strategic about who you allow to influence you in that process. Operate out of a sense of expectation and opportunity, understanding that people are often brought into your life for grand purposes. Seize those opportunities. Be respectful of their time and well-organized but don’t hesitate to ask them for counsel. They may be life long relationships, or a short term. Either can be life transforming for you. (And them!)

4. How can students get involved with global health initiatives and research at UofT and in the broader community?

We have so much you can be involved with at U of T! It is like drinking from a firehose. Whether it is participating in student groups like The University of Toronto International Health Program, Students for Partners in Health and many others, or research opportunities with professors through Research Opportunity Programs, Independent studies or posted work study programs, or work with NGOs and other global health organizations, be strategic regarding your decisions. It’s not quantity, it is quality.

5. What do the next 5 to 10 years in your research field look like? 

Political scientists are notorious for failing to accurately predict the future, so I will not try! The world is changing so fast that no one can, with credibility, predict precisely what policy relevant research with look like in global health or any area of international relations in the next 5-10 years. There are a few areas to watch however—questions of health equity and effectiveness expressed through different policy expressions of universal health care, the tension between human rights and neo-liberal economic models of growth and how that impacts health including sustainability and health—ie environmental impacts on health. On the security side—we should pay continued attention to the way in which the collapse of societies, increased violence from counter-insurgency and terror groups and inter-state conflicts of various forms may impact health. The way in which power is shifting in the international system, away from the west and some if its institutions, towards other centres of power, is impacting the ideas and structures that drive global policy—including in the areas of national and international security, health, human rights, the environment and economics.

6. What are the three things someone working in the global health space needs in their tool box?

  1. Authentic compassion and intellectual humility
  2. The ability and disposition to learn from those who are on the front lines of care or at the receiving end of it—i.e.: patients, their families and local health care providers.
  3. The ability to conduct trans disciplinary research


Editor’s Note: 

We would like to thank Dr. Joy Fitzgibbon for taking the time to support the launch of Juxta Talks. Dr. Fitzgibbon’s inspiring work highlights our shared humanity as the central pillar of global health efforts and reminds us of our collective responsibility to serve our global community in any way we can.