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A career that’s gone from policing to politics to advocacy

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

My name is Ken Chan and I am the vice-president of advocacy, research and health care at Cystic Fibrosis Canada. I have been in this role for almost a year.

What exactly do you do?

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I am fortunate to oversee a diverse portfolio that includes Cystic Fibrosis Canada's research and clinical programs, patient engagement, government relations and corporate communications. While each function is very different, collectively they work towards one common outcome – winning the fight against cystic fibrosis.

My mission is clear: bridge what is learned from the lab with the development of new treatments, improve the quality of clinical care and advocate for affordable access to new drugs – all to benefit cystic fibrosis patients.

Describe what you do on any given day.

There is no such thing as a typical day:

  • I make contact with government and politicians across Canada to advocate for programs such as newborn screening and affordable drug access for our patients.
  • I learn from cystic fibrosis clinicians and researchers so that I am equipped with the most up-to-date developments from the field.
  • I sit down with partners from pharmaceutical companies to understand what is in the drug development pipeline and how we can speed up patient access.

Whether I'm on the road or in Toronto, I try to spend time at cystic fibrosis clinics shadowing the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dieticians and social workers as they see patients. Talking to patients and their families gives me firsthand insight on the issues CF patients face on a daily basis.

What's your background and education?

I completed my undergraduate studies in political science and criminology at Simon Fraser University, my graduate studies in business at City University of Seattle and a diploma in investigative and forensic accounting at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

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Following my graduate studies in 1997, I went into law enforcement – first as an immigration officer and later as a police officer. Shortly after the Ontario Liberals were elected in 2003, I began working at Queen's Park as an adviser to Deputy Premier and Health Minister George Smitherman.

In 2008, I moved to London, England and worked as an assistant director with the United Kingdom government's Better Regulation Executive and later as the policing adviser in Mayor Boris Johnson's office. Electoral politics lured me back to Toronto in 2010 when I ran unsuccessfully for City Council. Following that, I became chief of staff to Ontario Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey.

How did you get to your position?

My career path has always been in public service but I also have a keen interest in health care; I have worked in health policy, chaired the board of a health care charity in England and served on a local health board in British Columbia. Overall, my diverse background in policing, politics and government has prepared me well for the executive role I am in now.

What's the best part of your job?

Working with a great people. I've built a talented team, comprised of people with different backgrounds and skills to accomplish our ambitious goals. Surrounding myself with great people is what inspires me.

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What's the worst part of your job?

Everyday I am reminded of the realities of what cystic fibrosis patients face in their daily lives. Half of those who died in 2010 were under the age of 26, and that is a horrible fact to be reciting every day. However, this sense of urgency means we need to work harder at discovering new, effective treatments to fight the disease.

What are your strengths in this role?

I thrive on strategizing and developing people. I am also driven by results and have a competitive nature, which I think is helpful in a job like mine.

What are your weaknesses?

In my current role you sometimes hear "no" to things you believe in and know are the best for patients. I can be impatient – while I know we'll achieve our goals eventually, sometimes the slow speed of progress gets to me.

What has been your best career move?

The decision to spend a couple of years living and working abroad has provided me with invaluable experience. Working in an international city like London gives me a global perspective.

What has been your worst career move?

Doing my MBA right after my undergraduate studies. I would have gotten more out of the program with several years of work experience.

What's your next big job goal?

I have never been one to walk away from exciting challenges and my career progression shows this. Right now, I'm leaving all doors open.

What's your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

You should always try to get experience outside of your day job and continue your education. Currently, I serve on the board of Alterna Savings, Ontario's second largest credit union, and as a part-time adjudicator with the City of Toronto's Licensing Tribunal. I am also on the board of the Sherbourne Health Centre. Starting this fall, I will be continuing my education through the Kellogg Executive Scholars Program at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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