After working as the director of clinical services at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and assistant dean for post-graduate education in the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine, he moved to B.C. in 2005 where he became a well-respected psychiatrist with Interior Health. There he established their tertiary mental-health program, which provided hospital care for people with the most complex mental-health and substance-use issues with the aim of improving quality of life by providing treatment and rehabilitation.
A career working with the most challenging cases might make some fatigued or less compassionate, but his empathy, energy and drive to help people shines through when he speaks about his work. This is something he will be bringing with him to his new role as the executive medical director for BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services.
"I was drawn to tertiary care precisely because I wanted to work with the people with the highest needs," he says. "When you work with patients with complex concurrent needs, that is mental illness and substance use problems combined, you really have to get to know them and their issues to be able to help them."
"For example, a man I worked with recently had a substance use disorder and severe depression. To treat him effectively I needed to recognize how both conditions reinforce each other. He had guilt about drug use feeding into low self-esteem and guilt, which in turn that fed his depression but also issues about who he was as a person," Paul continues. "The isolation built up to feed his loneliness which led further self-medication with drugs, isolating him further, and feeding his depression. Helping him meant addressing all these issues together."
Dr. Dagg has been recognised for his work through multiple awards, including the UBC Faculty of Medicine's 2017 Clinical Faculty Award for Excellence in Community Practice Teaching and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's prestigious Duncan Graham Award for outstanding contributions to medical education. But his work in medical ethics stands out as a career highlight for him.
"I'm proud of my ongoing work in the field of medical ethics," he says. "I'm particularly interested in exploring how pressures from the legal system, society and medical care intersect and affect the rights and autonomy of people with mental health and substance use issues. I'm an associate editor with The Journal of Mental Health, and in 2016 presented a talk on the ethical challenges of inpatient psychiatry at their annual conference, a talk I have since given elsewhere. I'm looking forward to bringing this mindset into what I do in this new role."
Dr. Dagg is also actively involved in educating future health-care professionals through post-graduate training in medicine and psychiatry. He is a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UBC and an examiner with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. These experiences have helped him to develop a deep respect for people who choose careers in caring for those with mental-health issues and a passion for the teams he works with.
"I see how my colleagues work effectively with people with challenging mental health problems, which can be stressful or even scary. Being part of a team I get to see how we problem solve together, coming up with an approach, a set of interventions we can implement involving everyone from the team, and an approach where everyone feels involved and supported," says Paul.
"Coming into this new role I'm most looking forward to working with the talented team here. When you're working with complex clients, you really depend on each other – you can't go it alone."
Listen to Paul Dagg talk about mental health ethics on Radio NL.