Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health and the local public health unit’s face of the COVID-19 pandemic, will receive an honorary degree from Algonquin College at its convocation ceremony next month.
The college cited her role in protecting and promoting public health advice during the pandemic among the list of accolades entitling her to the honour.
Etches, who became Ottawa’s medical officer of health in 2018, is the first woman to serve in the role.
Claude Brulé, president and CEO of Algonquin College, said in a statement Monday that the city is “indebted” to Etches and her team at OPH.
“Her wisdom, strength and compassion have helped guide our path forward through these challenging months. Her leadership has helped to save lives and is providing us the most effective route back to life as we knew it before COVID-19,” he said.
Etches is also being honoured for her work pre-pandemic, including managing OPH’s clinical services for dental care, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne illnesses and the opioid crisis.
And managing infectious diseases has been a part of the job well before COVID-19: Etches joined OPH only months before H1N1 was declared a pandemic in 2009.
A native of Hazelton, B.C., Etches holds degrees from Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto and completed her medical doctorate at the University of British Columbia. She also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa in the areas of public health as well as preventive and family medicine.
Algonquin College has a variety of health-care programs, with a release from the post-secondary institution noting that many in the graduating cohort will move on to work in Ottawa’s health-care system in the months ahead.
Etches said in a release that she wants Algonquin grads to inform and change the way the health-care system in Ottawa functions as they enter the workforce.
“To continue improving healthcare, we have to remain responsive to the dynamic needs of the community. We all must be adaptable, and the academic and real-life education we receive is a good foundation to make a difference to improve the health and wellbeing of people in our community,” she said.
Etches will be honoured at the Algonquin College convocation ceremony on June 23.