Colleen Flood reflects on career as healthcare policy prof and new role as Queen's Law School Dean

'Serendipity and good fortune' led to an academic career, says Flood

Colleen Flood reflects on career as healthcare policy prof and new role as Queen's Law School Dean
Colleen Flood, Queen’s University Law School, Dean

Colleen Flood began her five-year term as Dean of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University on July 1, 2023. Recognized as one of Canada’s leading scholars in health law and policy, she has made an impact in areas of research looking at how health services are delivered in Canada and around the world. Her comparative research has been incorporated into national and global debates over privatization, health system design, accountability and governance.

Before joining Queen’s Law, Flood was a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, where she also served as the University of Ottawa’s Research Chair in Health Law & Policy and was the founding director of the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.

Canadian Lawyer recently sat down with her to discuss her past research and why she decided to make a career change.

So, I’d like to start by asking you how, as a New Zealander, you ended up in Canada?

Well, I grew up in New Zealand, and I received my first law degree from the University of Auckland. When I graduated, I started practicing in a large law firm when I was about 21. 

It was a full-service firm, so I worked in all the departments at various points - corporate and business law, litigation, property law, and in the end, I was mostly practising administrative law, particularly in the construction area. It was a great learning experience.

What made you decide to leave and come to Canada? 

I saw many friends and colleagues doing graduate degrees in other parts of the world and thought it would be fun - a bit of an adventure. So, like many New Zealanders, I put on my backpack after three years at the law firm and left. The main difference is that many New Zealanders traditionally go to the United Kingdom. I don’t want to disparage anyone from the UK, but that seemed a little on the dull side. So, I chose Canada.

I always thought I’d go back to the law firm, but then getting to Canada and the whole experience of living here made me want to stay. I just loved it so much.

Looking back, I always had a fondness for Canada. As a nine-year-old, I remember doing a project on Canada for school, with (badly drawn) Mounties, French phrases and mentions of maple syrup. So, I think Canada was in my subconscious as a place that was appealing.

What turned your legal interests towards healthcare?

When I did my masters and doctorate at the University of Toronto, my interest wasn’t primarily in healthcare. In fact, if anything, it was telecommunications. New Zealand back then had been through a very tumultuous time, with rapid privatization of many state-owned enterprises. The healthcare sector in New Zealand was also undergoing reforms, moving to a “contracting-out” model. Looking at the interactions between the private sector and the state became really interesting to me.

This also merged with my experience and interest in administrative law. It all comes back to the idea of how you govern. And the appropriate role of the state, especially if the private sector is performing its public sector goals.

Is there something about Canada’s idea of universal healthcare that fed into that interest?

There certainly is more ability to jump the healthcare queue in New Zealand than Canada, so that contrast is interesting. Many countries have some universal-type health system, but what became clear to me is that Canada’s conception of universal healthcare is unique. And looking at the law in regard to the healthcare system in Canada, and more generally, is not an area that has been explored all that much.

And the decision to become an academic?

Well, that was more serendipity and good fortune than anything else. Researching in areas that interest you is just such a fabulous thing, and opportunities keep arising.

What was behind the decision to pivot to becoming the Dean at Queen’s Law School? That’s a bit of a change from being a professor of healthcare law.

Throughout my academic career, I haven’t been afraid to try different things because I think staying fresh and engaged is important.

When I was at the University of Toronto, I was seconded to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, where I was scientific director. Then, I went to the University of Ottawa to start the Centre for Health Law, Policies and Ethics. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of administrative things, such as budgets, how to manage an organization, and how to look at elevating research and knowledge. In a lot of ways, being Dean at Queen’s Law School brings these skills all into one place. It’s a small but mighty law school with endless potential.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that law schools face these days?

Well, we [law schools] are all in a difficult fiscal situation. Because government policy undoubtedly presents us with challenges, we must get creative around other revenue-generating activities. All while maintaining excellence in our JD program and providing excellent professional programming. So, it’s a real Rubik’s Cube.

And what about the students - what are the challenges they face?

For starters, we have fantastic students. But many are anxious and worried, and I would like to tell them they could relax a little bit more because they will graduate and get a great job. But they’re all very motivated. They’ve spent a lot of money, time, discipline and energy to get here. So, I understand why it is hard for them to relax.

Helping students understand that their careers will be one of change and transition is essential. Still, I also want them to realize that while getting a job on Bay Street is fantastic, the future might take them in many different directions, which is wonderful and fantastic. There are myriad ways to use a law degree in the real world. 

With more than 2,700 applications Queen’s Law get for 216 spots, there’s likely no problem getting great students. But what about the right mix of students, with so much discussion about diversity and inclusion these days?

It’s a great question. And we do have a diverse group, as something like 47 percent of our students identify as coming from racialized and diverse communities. So, it seems we’re attracting a fairly diverse group. Perhaps it is because our tuition is one of the lowest in Ontario. But we must do more to track this information and make it clear that we’re open for business and welcoming to all.

While we mostly go [accept students] on academic merit, we have special access categories, where a person’s backstory justifies why they should be here instead of someone else [with higher grades]. We also want to make sure that we are confident they will flourish at law school - we don’t want anyone to come here and not do well. It’s a highly competitive program.

What about issues related to students’ mental health and balance in life?

I think there’s just more openness about mental health challenges. And we hear about it a lot more, so I’m not sure that actually means that there are more mental health issues. There is certainly less stigma, and people are willing to discuss it.

I know that many law schools have embedded mental health counselling into their programs- and that is something we’d like to add to the supports we do have. 

Still, law school can be very stressful, and we definitely put students through their paces. We expect a lot from them to prepare them to go out into the real world and do well. We have to be realistic about what demands will be made on them. That means meeting deadlines, achieving a certain product quality, and juggling all the other expectations.

So, my last question: Is there anything we haven’t talked about yet that you want to add?

I just would say that this is the best job I’ve ever had. It makes my days so exciting and dynamic, with wonderful people to work with and outstanding students. There’s always a new challenge.

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