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Dr. Joss Reimer

Meet the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement

May 15, 2024 — 

Dr. Joss Reimer [MD/08, MPH/13, Medical Resident/13] is the recipient of the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement.

During the pandemic, hundreds of physicians across this province rose to the occasion. But, there are few physicians in Manitoba for whom this is more true than Dr. Joss Reimer, leader of the Provincial Vaccine Task Force during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.

Dr. Reimer reflects on that turbulent and high-profile time. “I think what I’m most proud of is how people have told me that I had a calming effect on them, because people were so scared during the pandemic. There was information changing all the time. And that for the most part Manitobans felt they could trust in what I was saying, that is such an honour, privilege and responsibility, that I will carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Because of her steadfast courage, more doses per capita of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered into the arms of Manitobans than any other prairie province. From local community groups, counsel from Indigenous leaders, input from medical advisory committees, and by adapting delivery strategies to meet the needs of the people, Dr. Reimer truly brought Manitoba together through her vaccine rollout.

Looking back at the early chapters of Dr. Reimer’s life and story, she always wanted to ‘change the world’, with medicine as her initial driving goal and UM her school of choice.

“The University of Manitoba has a very strong medical school,” says Dr. Reimer about getting her medical degree. “I know in Manitoba we often undersell ourselves, but this medical school is very clearly strong when it comes to training individuals in infectious diseases, training in rural and remote medicine in Indigenous health. I had no doubt I would get good training to become a physician.”

With her passion extending beyond healthcare and her eye-opening discussions with public health care physicians, Dr. Reimer returned to UM once again to complete a Master of Public Health. This passion and training led to a career focused on infectious diseases and drug harms. In this role, she led Manitoba through multiple outbreaks and notably, created a provincial Naloxone distribution program. Dr Reimer excelled in this position and was quickly promoted to Medical Director for Public Health for Winnipeg.

That’s the kind of thing that I’m really talking about in public health,” says Dr. Reimer. “Where you have to go out and look at the community and see what are the struggles, what are people having a hard time with and then find solutions. So being able to be part of creating the first city-wide Naloxone program and then the first provincial-wide program from Manitoba, was really exciting work – to be able to take a situation where people were literally dying and give them a glimmer of hope, give them a physical solution they could carry around with them.”

Although her work on the Naloxone program was critical, more high profile was Dr. Reimer’s time as the Medical Lead for Manitoba’s Vaccine Taskforce during the Covid 19 pandemic. Dr Reimer worked long hours, 7 days a week for months communicating daily, in multiple languages, with the public and leading the clinical work of the taskforce to ensure that Manitobans had access to both the vaccine and the information they needed.

Dr. Reimer has stayed closely connected to UM throughout the years by teaching the next generation of medical professionals. She’s also been a vocal advocate for mental health, sharing her own experiences and struggles through ‘What’s the Big Idea?’, UM President Benarroch’s podcast.

“At least 20% of Canadians have a mental illness,” says Dr. Reimer. “And while things are clearly getting better, they’re still a lot of stigma. In the medical world, there’s a lot of fear when you’re in the position as a physician to admit any sort of vulnerability. And as I’ve gotten further in my career, the risks for me to admit that kind of thing are much lower. But it’s still risky for people who are earlier in their career in their training, and so I wanted to, you know, use the platform that I have to try to share some positive messages about how you can be successful with a mental illness.”

Dr. Reimer has been one of the most important medical voices in our province, and her leadership continues to result in the saving of lives and long-term health for Manitobans and for all Canadians as the incoming President of the Canadian Medical Association.

“I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place,” says Dr. Reimer. “I want to change things. I want to be part of solutions and what better way than to represent physicians and get to speak to those decision makers at the federal level, but also at all the provincial and territorial levels.”

“I’m really passionate about physician wellness and reducing administrative burdens because that’s the type of work that really leads to burnout,” explains Dr. Reimer. “In Manitoba at least 1/3 of physicians are talking about reducing their hours, retiring or quitting altogether. So, anything we can do to improve physician wellness is going to improve retention, which is even more important than recruitment. Recruitment is wonderful, but we want to keep the people we have here. To represent the voice of physicians – to me means representing the needs of the community as well.”

Dr. Reimer is humbled by the announcement that she will receive the 2024 UM Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement.

“Someone actually told me this is usually an end of career type award,” laughs Dr. Reimer. “I hope that’s not true! I’ve had two degrees through the University of Manitoba, plus finished my residency here. So, this is a really special place. To be recognized by a place that’s been such a part of shaping me and my career – I can’t think of a greater honor.”

The 2024 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration of Excellence presented by TD Insurance will be held September 19, 2024, during Homecoming. Get your tickets now as the event is always a sell-out! 

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