Dr. Cory Neudorf describes himself as a health geek.
It’s an apt description of a man who has spent the past 24 years dedicated to promoting and protecting the health of people in communities in Saskatchewan and around the world. From his home base in Saskatoon, he has travelled to northern Saskatchewan, as well as Eastern Europe and Central Asia – nearly 20 countries all together – in the interest of global health.
“The main elements of public health are disease prevention, health promotion and protection, surveillance and monitoring, and disaster management and recovery,” says Saskatoon Health Region’s Department Head of Public Health and Chief Medical Health Officer. “We play a role when there’s a natural disaster like a train derailment, flooding or a forest fire evacuation, where there are public health implications in terms of the water and food supply and the spread of disease.”
Dr. Cory Neudorf
As the Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Neudorf supervises the Region’s Medical Health Officers. However, unlike most physicians who work with individual patients – listening to patient histories and ordering diagnostic tests – medical health officers are “community doctors who look at the health of the whole community,” says Dr. Neudorf.
“Our job as Medical Health Officers is to look for the patterns and interventions that can improve the health status of a community – basically, a prescription for the community,” he continues, explaining that the prescription might include recommendations to provincial, national and global policy makers for things like poverty reduction and immunization programs.
Dr. Neudorf realized that his interest was in public health while completing a residency in family medicine.
“I found out about public health through a fellow who was practicing in that area, and it intrigued me,” he says. “I felt that my interest in social justice and prevention, and my skills in statistics and epidemiology, all came together in public health. The ability to work at the local, provincial, federal and international levels seemed to me like an area that would lead to a lot of opportunities and a diverse set of career choices.”
In the years since discovering his passion for public health, Dr. Neudorf has led a varied career. After returning from Toronto, where he completed a specialty in public health and preventative medicine following his family medicine training, he accepted a two-year term position as Medical Health Officer and Assistant Director for fly-in clinics in Northern Saskatchewan.
In 1996, he joined Saskatoon District Health (now Saskatoon Health Region) as the Medical Health Officer in charge of communicable disease control. At the time, he published the Region’s first health status report, which provides relevant, evidence-based information to the health system and community-based organizations.
“I like to get things started,” says the man known among his peers as a self-starter, who also served as the first director of SHIPS (Strategic Health Information and Performance Support) in 1997-8 as part of a brief secondment before accepting a position as Chief Medical Health Officer in 1999 and becoming a member of the Region’s senior leadership team in 2000.
Dr. Neudorf also likes to travel and has volunteered and worked on a contractual basis for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and a variety of international non-governmental organizations. Through these organizations he has provided public health expertise to government health workers in 17 countries, including Italy, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan – the country he says stands out the most.
“That’s where a famous declaration on the delivery of primary care was signed by the countries of the WHO,” he explains of his fascination for the country. “The modern definition of health as being more than just the absence of disease, but a resource for everyday living, was penned there in the 1970s.”
His interest in international travel was sparked at the young age of 18, when he volunteered in Mali for nearly four months, organizing youth programs.
“I wanted to go into medicine at that point, so I was given a chance to tour some of the primary health clinics and hospitals that were there to see the conditions,” he says. “It changed my perspective on social justice and poverty. It also made me think of the responsibility we have as physicians to affect change.”
Dr. Neudorf has taken this call to action to heart. In recent years, he and his team have been responsible for raising the immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella in inner-city children aged two and under from 46 per cent in 2007 to 80 per cent in 2016.
“In 2007, we followed up with people who were behind in their immunizations and discovered that one of the barriers to immunization was transportation, so we opened a clinic in the inner city,” Dr. Neudorf says, adding that they also offered mobile clinics that moved between neighbourhoods on different days of the week and offered home visits when necessary.
“Instead of providing a one-size fits all program, where we have clinics all over the city and expect you to come to us, we looked at providing equal service for equal need and modifying our program accordingly,” he explains.
“We still have a ways to go – the national goals are higher – and we’re always looking for ways to improve, but by reducing that inequality from a socioeconomic perspective, we’ve made huge gains,” he says, adding that the lessons learned have been adapted into a model for improving health equity throughout public health and the rest of the health system that is being emulated across the country and beyond.
Dr. Neudorf is a an associate professor and residency program director at the University of Saskatchewan, and a former president of both the Canadian Public Health Association and the Public Health Physicians of Canada. He also sits on advisory committees with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Dr. Neudorf says that taking on a variety of roles has showed him that “innovations from other places can be adapted and brought back home” and “innovative and progressive ways of dealing with issues can come from a small place like Saskatoon.
“It becomes this cycle of innovation in health improvement – that’s what I find exciting,” he adds.
“I’m really thankful for the chance that the Region and the university has given me to participate in public health leadership positions in a volunteer capacity not only in other countries but also at a provincial and national level,” he says. “The highlight for me was being able to serve on the provincial committee for poverty reduction a few years ago, and I’ve been serving at a federal level on the Canadian council for social determinants of health for a number of years.”
“The breadth of things that I’m exposed to and interested in just keeps growing,” he says with a hint of excitement in his voice.
When not pursuing his professional interests, Dr. Neudorf, a grandfather of two and father of three, enjoys doing woodwork and home renovations, playing racket sports like tennis and squash, honing his photography skills and practicing taekwondo – he has a second degree black belt.