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Career Profile

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar

Public Health Agency of Canada
Le Dr Harpreet Kochhar devant un ordinateur dans son bureau.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar at standup computer station in his office.

Le Dr Harpreet Kochhar devant un ordinateur dans son bureau.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar at standup computer station in his office.

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I am the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

About me

I was born/grew up in: India and came to Canada to study at the University of Guelph.

I now live in: Ottawa, ON

I completed my training/education at: I completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in veterinary science at Punjab Agricultural University in India before moving to Canada and completing my doctorate in Animal Biotechnology at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

What I do at work

I am the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). PHAC is one of the Government of Canada’s health agencies and is a science-based organization. Our activities focus on preventing disease and injuries, as well as responding to public health threats. We also work to promote good physical and mental health and provide information to support informed decision-making. Recently, PHAC has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and is leading the pandemic response for the country.

My work centres on solving problems that have to do with operations, policy and logistics. For example, during the pandemic, I was responsible for making sure Canada had the supply of vaccines we needed to protect people. I work with my team to figure out plans for dealing with all kinds of health-related issues. This includes such things as new waves of COVID and future pandemics. My work requires decision-making and problem-solving skills as well as diagnostic and interpersonal skills.

In my management role, I have the opportunity to advise others, including the Prime Minister and other government Ministers. I also get to be a part of making life better for Canadians. The variety in my work is exciting! I work with intelligent and compassionate colleagues to make analytical decisions and solve all kinds of different problems that directly affect people’s lives.

My career path is

When I was in high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started with a Bachelor’s degree in veterinary science. Even after I finished my doctorate, I still wasn’t completely sure exactly what direction my career should take. What I was always sure about was that I wanted to help others. I discovered that there are many good things about not knowing exactly what you are going to do. I was always excited about exploring the unknown and I have gone on instinct. I have benefited from a buffet of opportunities and reinvented myself several times throughout my career.

I started my career in Canada by practising veterinary medicine in South Western Ontario. I was also an Assistant Professor at the Ontario Veterinary College. I reached the peak of veterinary medicine when I became Canada’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Canada’s Delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health. I also worked in a leadership role at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

My career shifted from science to social policy when I joined Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada as an Assistant Deputy Minister. I had the opportunity to use my analytical and problem-solving skills and learn how to turn ideas into policies. More recently, I joined the senior executive team at Health Canada as Associate Deputy Minister. In 2021, I became President of the Public Health Agency of Canada during the COVID pandemic.

I am motivated by

I have always liked to help others and I have always enjoyed learning new things. The first three months into my studies, I was amazed by the knowledge that you need to gather so that you can be a good vet. I remember thinking, “What is the difference between my friend in medical school and me? He is learning about the anatomy and physiology of human beings. I’m learning about five different species. I need to know five different ways physiology works. Plus, my patients aren’t able to tell me how they feel.” I thought, “This is awesome!”

How I affect peoples’ lives

I have an opportunity to impact the health of Canadians now and into the future.

A key approach in my work is called One Health. This concept recognizes that the health of people is closely connected with the health of animals and the health of the environment. My work isn’t just about preventing disease and making sure we’re able to find vaccines. I also work with a team of experts to look carefully at what happened in the pandemic. We look at what could happen again and how we can prepare for the next crisis. We also look at interactions between animal health, human health and the environment. We ask what we should focus on and do more research on. We also decide what kind of data will help support these efforts.

One Health is not a new concept. However, it has become more important in recent years. For example, the One Health approach is relevant today in the spread of disease between animals and humans. Another concern where it applies is in antimicrobial resistance, where the bacteria or the microorganisms change with exposure to antibiotics. One of the key components of my work has been to look at these issues from every angle.

Outside of work I

My job is demanding and I work long hours. I do enjoy cooking and find it very relaxing. I also enjoy long walks, volleyball and golf. I volunteer to help raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

My advice to others

Keep your mind open and be willing to seize an opportunity when it comes up. Don’t be afraid to explore what you want to be. Concentrate more on what you could do than what you are able to do. Many doors will open for you if you are willing to experiment a bit and follow you instincts.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Enjoyed exploring new things
  • Engaged in volunteer activities

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