dr martens 8 eye Researcher turned dry data into stories
Patricia Martens’s passion for understanding and spreading knowledge about health research manifested itself in different ways throughout her life. She believed strongly in the power of such data to point to ways of improving health and reducing inequality.
A gifted and enthusiastic teacher, skilled academic and widely admired administrator, she served as the director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy ( from 2004 to 2014.
When she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos, she recognized the opportunity to speak up and support the campaign to have Canada join other developed countries in banning asbestos. She sent a letter urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to acknowledge that all forms of asbestos are hazardous to human health, though she only received a polite form letter in reply, her husband, Gary Martens, recalls.
Ever the curious researcher, she told local media soon after her diagnosis, want to try to understand this cancer care journey, so this gives me an opportunity to put on my scientific hat and say, could we do this a little better?’ Focusing on her work kept her from dwelling on what she called the things about her disease.
Patricia Martens died at the age of 62 on Jan. 10. is surely a tragic irony that someone who was such a proponent for public health would die from this illness, said David Henry, a Toronto academic, research scientist and friend of Dr. Martens.
Dr. Martens’s first career was as a high school chemistry and mathematics teacher in Winnipeg. In 1978, however, she moved with her husband, Gary Martens, to work a farm in rural Manitoba.
She returned to university when both her children were in school.
Consequently, she entered the research world late she was 47 in 1999 when she was awarded her PhD in health sciences at the University of Manitoba. Though her academic career was relatively short, by the time of her death, Dr. Martens had presented at more than 400 conferences and published more than 300 articles, reports, book chapters and abstracts. She became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.
Dr. Defries Award ( highest award from the Canadian Public Health Association) and was named the 2014 Justice Emmett Hall Laureate for contributions to health research.
Dr. Martens was famous in health policy circles for her lively and humorous presentations, often involving the use of unusual props.
She would distribute licorice sticks, for example, to help nonstatisticians grasp the significance of the Lorenz curve, a graphical representation of income related inequality. The more the curve sags, the greater the inequality. Dr. Martens would have audience members bend their licorice to mirror the curve on the slide of a graph she projected a curve that revealed, in one instance, that rates of suicide ( suicide attempts) in Manitoba were much higher for people in the 20 per cent lowestincome category. This curve, she noted, suggested the need for targeted interventions. In contrast, an almost straight line on another graph revealed that among people over 55, dementia affects all income groups in Manitoba almost equally, suggesting the need for universal interventions.
Dr. Martens also liked to show snapshots of a variety of deercrossing road signs, to prompt reflection on whether deer actually look different in different provinces and countries, and to stress the importance of investigation and context.
Most memorable, however, was her trademark and shift gesture, in which she clasped her hands and raised her arms to form a triangle. She used this gesture to help audiences understand the significance of changing the position and shape of a bell curve representing the distribution of a particular health or social indicator in a population.
If the whole curve could be shifted in a positive direction ( would maintain the triangle proportions but shift her arms to the side) the overall population health gains could be significant, but the gap between the least and most healthy ( tails of the curve) would remain the same. Next, she would demonstrate the ( would bring her elbows closer together) to explain the importance of a targeted effort to reduce inequality by improving the condition of those who were least healthy.