Conference Speakers

Thursday November 15th AM:

Dr. Ellen Amster, Ph.D.
Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine
McMaster University

Cat’s Cradle and the Clinical Trial: The Humanity of Medicine
and the Humanities in Medicine

We are experiencing an existential crisis in medicine. A crisis of meaning manifests as physician discomfort with evidence-based medicine, caregiver burnout, and clinician ambivalence over empathy for the patient and the self.  In this talk, Ellen will return to the social and historical origins of medicine to make visible three truths about the metaphysics of healing and the relationship of the physician to society.  A clue is to be found in the history of EBM at McMaster University and the work of David Sackett, who drew ideas from the novel Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.  Medicine touches the foundation of the human; the humanities offer a way of returning to this basic reality, of seeing ourselves and the meaning of medical practice.

Ellen Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at McMaster University, and associate professor in the Dept. of Health and Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, and the Dept. of History. She received her B.A. from the Univ. of Chicago and M.A. and Ph.D. from the Univ. of Pennsylvania. She served as a simultaneous translator for an ORBIS ocular surgery mission and takes undergraduate students to Morocco for a context-based global health field course in the determinants of maternal and infant health. Her 2013 book is Medicine and Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956 (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press). She joined McMaster in 2014, after serving ten years as professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Thursday November 15th PM:

Karen Heisig, Board Chair
Western New York Chapter
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Talk Saves Lives

“So many people have that aha moment of realizing they are not struggling alone. They may not speak up in front of the group, but in the quiet conversations that follow during lunch, there are always knowing smiles and kind words exchanged between strangers. It brings me joy to hear and see people finding those connections as I am keenly aware of how vital they’ve been to me.”—Karen Heisig

There is no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. In this talk, Karen will help us come to appreciate that depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. She will also explain that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, lead fulfilling lives. Karen will share current statistics and research as she teaches us about risk factors, preventive measures, and warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide, and what we can do if we are concerned about someone

Karen holds an associates degree from Niagara University. She married her husband Maurice, an Army officer stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1988. Karen lived in North and South Carolina over the next 20 years before moving back to New York with her children in 2009. Having lost both her husband after a year and a half battle with depression and PTSD, and his younger brother seven years earlier to suicide, Karen is passionate about suicide prevention and changing the culture of mental health awareness. She has been a volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for 9 years and has served on the board for the Western New York Chapter of AFSP for 7 years, currently as the Board Chair where she oversees the Survivor Day Committee.  When not working part time at Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester as an Intake Coordinator, Karen can be found presenting free suicide prevention programs in the greater Rochester area, providing outreach to those who have suffered a loss due to suicide.

Friday November 16th AM:

Workplace Diversity: Library Services and Employer
Readiness for Individuals with Autism

Robin Brennan, Director Autism Services
Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services
Ontario, Canada

Irene O’Connor, Graduate student
Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour
McMaster University

Once considered a rare disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now estimated to affect 1 in 66 children in Canada making it one of the most common developmental disabilities. Persons with ASD experience varying degrees of challenge in the areas of  communication, social interaction, restrictive interests or repetitive behaviours all of which create diversity beyond what can be easily seen. As more individuals with ASD enter the workforce, adaptations to hiring practices, training materials, and service models will be needed to reduce biases that potentially put people on the spectrum at a disadvantage. This talk will describe a unique vocational training program for individuals with ASD implemented at McMaster University’s Health Sciences Library (among other departments). Adaptations to promote workplace inclusion will be discussed along with the benefits which those on the spectrum bring to the workplace.

Robin began working with Woodview Children’s Centre in 1985 after graduating with her BA, with Distinction, in Child Development. She began working with youth challenged with Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder and then helped to develop the agency’s first autism programs in 1989. Woodview became one of only two agencies in the province that specialized in services and supports for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  and then began developing programs for children and teens on the Spectrum.  She became Director of Autism Services in 2009.  Robin continues to expand Woodview’s ASD services and is a strong voice in the Province for those with an ASD.  She is a member of CASDA (the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance) and sits on a number of advisory committees.

Irene completed her undergraduate studies at McMaster University (B.Sc. Psychology), as well as completing a B.Ed. and M.Ed at the University of Western Ontario.   She  has worked at Woodview Children’s Centre in an independent living skills program for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, later moving to Hamilton Health Science’s Pervasive Developmental Disorders team linking families of children with ASD to available community resources. Most recently she worked at the Offord Center for Child studies co-ordinating a genetics of autism study and as psychometrist for the Pathways in ASD study, a longitudinal study on predictors of optimal outcome.

Irene is currently a graduate student in the McMaster Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour program, Research and Clinical Training Stream.  She is also studying the development of vocational skills in transition-aged youth with ASD as part of a collaborative project between McMaster University, the Offord Center for Child Studies, the Hamilon-Wentworth District School Board and Woodview Children’s Center.  Her broad focus of study is on factors contributing to resilience across the lifespan for individuals with ASD.

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