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HEADLINE MAKERS: DR. JOEL KETTNER

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MANITOBA'S CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER CLAIM TO FAME: KETTNER is the public health boss and the point man for potentially life-and­death decisions should a pandemic flu hit Manitoba.

LATE START:

KETTNER grew up in the North End and, as a boy, was more interested in live the­atre than hospital emergency rooms.

His early theatre training landed him small parts on local stages, including Rainbow Stage and two productions at Manitoba Theatre Centre. His father, a university physicist, urged him to con­sider medicine.

"For a variety of reasons, I reached a conclusion it would be smarter to get a profession and try acting later than to start off acting and change my mind," Kettner said. "So I got a day job first, and someday, (I'd) see if I had talent."

At the University of Manitoba, he stud­ied general arts and sciences before en­tering medical school. He went on to work in the St. Boniface Hospital emergency room for two years and later continued his training in London, England, where he obtained his master's degree in epidemi­ology.

By then, Kettner had morphed from a long-haired "hippie" med student to a highly educated specialist with a keen interest in community health. He came back to Winnipeg and studied community medicine under Dr. Brian Postl. Kettner started work as a medical officer of health in 1990 in places like Thompson, The Pas and Selkirk.

Kettner assumed the top public health job in the province in 1999.

LONG HOURS:

Aside from leading the provincial health system, he fills occasional emergency room shifts at Grace Hospital and admits his days sometime start as early as 4 a.m. Kettner has daily hour-long teleconfer­ences about H1N1 flu with national and provincial health leaders and is inundated with a barrage of email updates, phone calls and requests. "I've been getting between four and six hours of sleep a night," he said.

TOUGH DECISIONS:

When Kettner's email alerted him to a mysterious viral outbreak in Mexico two weeks ago, he didn't think the illness would develop into a worldwide health scare.

He is in the spotlight, but the chief medical officer relies on a team of public health doctors and experts to make deci­sions.

"I just happen to be the alpha wolf right now," he said. "It can be very scary, espe­cially when you think of the significance and impacts of the decision."

STAGE FRIGHT:

Kettner confessed he still gets "stage fright," but has learned how to do his job in the face of uncertainty.

"(It's) just like an actor who might get nervous before going on stage. You have to be sharp when you're on stage and be ready to pay attention to 100 things at once. You have to look like you're still playing the part so you don't break the suspension of disbelief."

-- Jen Skerritt

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