Dr. Leah Jones is the newly appointed inaugural Academic Director for Black Health at Dalhousie Medical School. A Dartmouth native, her career path tells a rich story of focus, commitment, and engagement with the unique opportunities available to young scholars in the field of substance use research.
As an undergraduate Biology Major at Dalhousie University, Leah received a studentship through the Dalhousie Summer Student Research Program for Non-Medical Students. Working with Dr. Sherry Stewart, PI for the CRISM Atlantic node, she joined a team that was studying distance-based cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders. She continued her interest in health research as a student in Dalhousie’s Medical School via a Faculty of Medicine Marvin Burke Summer Studentship. Joining a CRISM-funded team that was studying the contexts and circumstances of polysubstance abuse in opiate substitution therapy (OST) clients, she carried out semi-structured interviews in OST clinics in Halifax and Montreal. This was a particularly transformative experience for her, for several reasons. By having conversations with patients in the setting where they are receiving therapy and showing interest in their backstory, she learned the value of this approach towards gaining deeper insights into an individual’s motives for substance use. This experience has impacted how she practices medicine now. It also helped her identify the gaps in current medical curricula around the substance misuse and the minimal exposure that physicians in training have to patients in SU treatment.
Her professional aspirations can be traced back to her personal experiences as an African Nova Scotian, and her journey to her present position has been fulfilling and confirmed her early interests in the field. While Dr. Jones sees her leadership role position as strategically important for ensuring the successful engagement of African Nova Scotian and Black populations in the medical profession, she aspires to continue her research in the substance misuse field, particularly methamphetamine addiction. She works in addictions and harm reduction at Direction 180 and an opioid recovery program in Dartmouth, and continues her personal involvement in the African Nova Scotian community by providing primary care through the Nova Scotia Sisterhood, a new program by Nova Scotia Health. This program provides primary care specifically for Black women and gender diverse individuals in Nova Scotia, through which Leah hopes to “…rebuild trust between these communities and the health-care system with a culturally competent approach.”