Workplace Wellness Championed by Multi-Awarded Canadian Filipina Dr. Denise Koh

Workplace Wellness Dr. Denise Koh
Dr. Denise Koh is a multi-awarded Canadian Filipina and trailblazer for workplace wellness in Canada. ©edited by Qjiel Mariano

When it comes to using innovative approaches to optimize health and wellness for the individual, workers, and the population, including health inequities, Dr. Denise Koh is a leading figure. Armed with the courage to travel the road less taken, Dr. Koh sets an example for the future of using emerging technologies as a platform for individuals, worker groups such as healthcare professionals, and organizations to address their health concerns and enhance their performance.

A Canadian Filipina no stranger to achievement

Dr. Denise Koh is a physician specializing in public health and occupational medicine based in Manitoba, where she has served as the Chief Occupational Medical Officer and a Medical Officer of Health (MOH). Alongside her skillful guidance in the province’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a key figure in advocating for the Filipino, Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities throughout her career. This ultimately led to her being recognized with the Canadian Occupational Safety’s Top Woman in Safety Award and the Women’s Executive Network’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women Award, Top 100 (Canadian Tire Community Impact Category) in 2022.

“Recognitions or accolades like these are important for Filipinos or those of Filipino descent,” says Dr. Koh. A lot of Filipinos work behind the scenes but do not get enough recognition for what they do. “Filipinos face barriers, especially in getting these leadership positions, as our work and credentials are often undervalued or overlooked, and we were raised to be humble and accommodating,” she added.

Recently, Dr. Koh accepted the Foundation of Filipina Women’s Network’s Most Influential Filipina in the World Award during the 19th Filipina Leadership Global Summit in Prague. Her work as a Hypnotherapist and developer of the MedResRx Hypnotherapy App was recognized in the Innovator and Thought-Leader Category. “I created an app that utilizes hypnotherapy-based recordings to heal, empower, and enhance the performance of physicians, medical trainees, vulnerable workers, and others suffering from issues such as burnout, anxiety, weight management, you name it,” she shared.

Indeed, a story worth immortalising, Dr. Koh co-authored the Best-Selling ‘Artificial Intelligence in Medicine: a compilation of stories from doctors across multiple disciplines on the challenges, breakthroughs, and potentials of artificial intelligence in the healthcare system’ which launched in October 2023.

Among the authors featured in the book, Dr. Denise is the only Canadian and the only specialist in public health and occupational medicine. “There were 15 female doctors, and we all had our different specialties, like oncology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, public health, among others,” she explained. In her chapter, Dr. Koh describes her experiences protecting worker safety and health during the COVID-19 pandemic in the province of Manitoba.

“I was leading the public health response for high-risk worker groups such as in Food Processing, work camps, temporary foreign workers, and transportation, and I kept coming across the same theme I studied in my medical training and MPH (Master of Public Health) where I researched Filipino doctors and care workers migrating and settling in Canada: racialized workers face barriers compared to non-racialized workers, and these systemic barriers increase their risk of getting very sick,” she noted.

The inequities she saw during the pandemic, her unique training, expertise, and position in both public health and occupational medicine, her personal struggles with bullying and burnout in medicine and other dysfunctional workplaces, and her strong sense of fighting for the underdog instilled by her parents have all led to her creation of the MedResRx Hypnotherapy app and her Burnout Blaster Bootcamp, and now, her new global project: The MedResRx Babaeng Burnout Blaster Bootcamp.

“The FWN Award is a working award to uplift and empower local Filipinas. I plan to tailor my Bootcamp for Filipina care workers (nurses, health care aides, caregivers) by adding worker rights, trauma-informed healing, anti-racism, and anti-sexism elements to it. I want to give a voice to this highly vulnerable worker group and address the devaluation that has occurred with the long-standing gendered recruitment of Filipinos globally.”

Dr. Denise Koh alongside the book she co-authored, Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. Credits to the respective owners.

Trailblazing the Workplace Wellness in Medicine Agenda in Canada

Dr. Denise Koh is currently an Assistant Professor at the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. Mentoring the next generation in Health Care and in the Filipino community is second nature for her.

Seeing Filipinos take up space in medical school is rare. “There were not a lot of Filipinos in medical schools in Canada during my time,” she recalled. “Nowadays, there are pinoy associations like the Filipino Association of Medical Students at the University of Manitoba, which is a big step forward,” she continued. Dr. Koh looks forward to mentoring more Filipinos as youth and as they enter medical school.

In terms of governance and public health, Dr. Denise mentioned the promise of AI in addressing inequities and combating misinformation which was prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. “AI is growing at a rate so fast that it is like a runaway train that we all have to catch up to,” she shared. While the public service is yet to fully welcome AI with open arms, Dr. Koh believes that we have to embrace it as soon as possible. “AI can seem quite scary, so it’s not surprising that many government organizations haven’t accepted or adopted it right away,” she added.

While AI is becoming more incorporated into medical practice, we can put our trust in public servants like Dr. Denise Koh who uses technology to help heal people, communities, and systems and encourages us to welcome these technologies as a way of life.

READ MORE from Qjiel Mariano here:

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Qjiel Mariano
Qjiel Mariano is a Youth Council Member of the Joint SDG Fund and a Global Public Health advocate from the Philippines. He is passionate about amplifying the voices of young people and bridging opportunities for them to contribute to the greater good. Like every other youth, he enjoys anime, pop culture, food, and sitcoms. His favorite quote is by sir Allen Saraza “Sa bawat padayon, huwag kalimutan mag-pahuway” which translates to "Whenever you keep going, do not forget to rest.”