Advocating for sustainable change in prevention and control of infectious diseases
Dr. Lynn Johnston is the 2020 recipient of the Prix d’excellence — Specialist of the Year award for Region 5
Starting her career in the mid-1980s, Lynn Johnston, MD, MSc, FRCPC, faced the life-changing challenge of the HIV epidemic. At the time, the average survival for patients who presented sick was about nine months, said the Dalhousie University Infectious Diseases specialist. “At most two years. It was a very difficult situation, especially for a young physician.”
Things started to turn around for HIV patients in the early and mid-2000s. “Now these patients have the same life expectancies as the rest of us,” she said. “The development of HIV medications is really a modern miracle.”
Along the way, Dr. Johnston has become a leading advocate for system-level, sustainable change in infectious diseases prevention and control.
“She is recognized as a leading figure in Infection Control in Canada and the United States and has had a hand in the development of many of the Infection Control policies we use today,” says John Conly, MD, FRCPC, Infectious Diseases professor at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
Dr. Johnston has held several positions with her national specialty organization, the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada, including president from 2010 to 2012. She is a founding member of the Canadian Hospital Epidemiology Committee and spent 10 years as chair/co-chair of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Infection Prevention and Control Expert Working Group. She also chaired the Specialty Committee in Infectious Diseases.
“Dr. Johnston is valued for her clear clinical reasoning, pragmatic approach to emerging crises, and vast breadth of clinical knowledge and expertise,” said Lisa Barrett, MD, FRCPC, her Infectious Diseases colleague at Dalhousie and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. “This extended to an unpaid leave working with the World Health Organization in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. She selflessly and immediately made arrangements to be in the field, helping where it was needed most.”
“She is the person that everyone else in the department comes to for advice about a perplexing case, a difficult patient, or navigating the health care system to some endpoint,” says Jacquelyn LeBlanc, MD, FRCPC, Infectious Diseases physician at Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick.
Dr. Johnston is also an advocate for equity in health care.
“I was able to learn from my patients – (seeing) their dignity despite how badly they had been treated in life.” Dr. Johnston said her early-career social awareness was also shaped by her Infectious Diseases residency in Los Angeles.
“That was a quick introduction to a diverse population. I met a lot of people who have lived through the school of hard knocks; I saw the humanity in them.
“We are all essentially the same at heart.”