If any lessons can be drawn from the Max Bell MPP program’s first three student cohorts, it might be how multidisciplinary the next generation of policy leaders will be. Few, if any, of Max Bell’s students embody that idea better than Kerry Kittson. After an accomplished career as a physiotherapist treating patients with musculoskeletal injuries, Kerry has chosen to pivot to the world of public policy. “I think being a health professional, some people have the expectation that you’ll be treating patients for your full career,” she says. “It’s good to challenge that because health care professionals have so many different skills that they can translate to other sectors.”
As an MPP candidate, Kerry hopes to apply her skills—old and new—to a fresh set of challenges. “I’ve mostly been focused on physiotherapy the last 10 years,” she says. “But I know there’s just so much more out there, and that’s really exciting.”
An MPP from the Max Bell School of Public Policy will be Kerry’s third post-secondary degree. After earning her B.Sc. in Kinesiology from Queen’s University, she decided to stay in Kingston to pursue a Masters in Physiotherapy. After graduation, Kerry took on a variety of leadership roles across the private and public sectors, including at the telehealth firm Phzio, the Ontario Ministry of Health, and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.
The possibilities of a career in public policy became clear to Kerry while she was working at the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. “Part of my job was engaging with different physiotherapists from across the country, responding to inquiries about their practices. “I really enjoyed learning about all of the different regulations and laws and their interpretation” she recalls. Then inspiration to actually make a change came from an unexpected place.
For Kerry, the pandemic was an opportunity to reassess her career. “When COVID hit, I and a lot of my colleagues and friends really had a chance to reflect on what we wanted out of our careers and our lives. I think it’s healthy to be switching gears and learning something new.” Kerry hasn’t looked back.
When asked about her initial observations of the program, one jumps to mind immediately. “Everyone in this program has a unique background. It’s just incredibly diverse, which is the best part of it,” Kerry says. She is also serving as Academic Director with the Public Policy Association of Graduation Students (PPAGS), helping to ensure student colleagues reach their academic potential.
A completely new set of peers and academic subjects are already generating early returns for Kerry. “Microeconomics is its own language, law is its own language, the machinery of government is its own language. Being exposed to all of these different ways of thinking is really expanding my perspective on different issues in the world.” She’s also looking forward to the Policy Lab, where she will work within a team and apply her health care experience to the challenge of homelessness in collaboration with the Policy Lab’s sponsor - the Old Brewery Mission.
Big possibilities and an open mind
After her time at Max Bell, Kerry hopes to work in the field of health policy, designing and evaluating programs that improve the wellbeing of Canadians. One possibility is a career in the federal government, where both of her parents forged their careers. But Kerry knows that sometimes the best opportunities are the most unexpected. “I genuinely don’t know where the MPP program will lead me, but that’s also pretty exciting. I’m trying to keep an open mind.” In the meantime, she has jumped into student life at McGill with both feet.
Regardless of where her MPP takes her, Kerry believes her time as a physiotherapist has set her up for success as she embarks on this new chapter. “Empathy is a hugely transferrable skill,” she smiles. “It’s really important to be able to put yourself in the shoes of others, whether that’s housing, healthcare, whichever policy is at hand. I think working on the front lines with patients who had complex health needs has really helped to prepare me for that. You can’t just make policy in an ivory tower, you have to talk people who are experiencing the problem and really understand their concerns.”