Dr. Denise Spitzer Print E-mail


dr denise spitzerDenise L. Spitzer, PhD, is the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Migration and Health, an Associate Professor with the Institute of Women's Studies and a Principal Scientist in the Institute of Population Health. In addition to undergraduate studies in Biology, Chinese, and Music, she holds an M.A. and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Alberta. Dr. Spitzer has more than sixteen years of experience working with immigrants, refugees, and migrants in Canada and throughout Southeast Asia. Deploying an intersectional lens, her research deals with issues such as: the impact of immigration policies on immigrant, migrant and refugee households and communities; care-work, global care chains and transnational families; the effects of the global economy, in particular the global financial crisis, on the lives and well-being of migrant workers and their families; and the role of identity, social support, agency and resistance in mitigating the deleterious effects of marginalization on the health and well-being of refugees, migrants, and immigrants. Primarily employing qualitative methods—including participatory visual ethnography—Dr. Spitzer's research contributes both to theory and to the development of practical strategies to promote both immigrant and refugee health and social justice for socially and economically disadvantaged peoples, in large part, by helping to amplify the voices of the community members with whom she works.

Affiliation and Personal Website

  • Institute of Women's Studies and Institute of Population and Health, University of Ottawa
  • Visiting Scholar, University of Cumbria, United Kingdom, 2011-2014

Health Worker Projects

Although not solely focused on health worker migration, I have undertaken a series of research projects with migrants who have come to Canada under the auspices of the Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP). Notably, many LCP workers, primarily from the Philippines, were trained as health workers and hoped to pursue their careers once they had completed their obligations under the LCP. These projects include:

  • In the Shadows: Live-In Caregivers in Alberta. (2001-2). Funded by Canadian Heritage, Status of Women Canada, and Health Canada. Awarded to Denise L. Spitzer and Sonia Bitar.

We examined the experiences of current and former LCP workers living in the Province of Alberta using interviews, focus groups and surveys and further conducted interviews with employers and employment agency representatives. Their responses enabled us to produce a set of educational materials for both live-in caregivers and their employers. The study drew attention to the process of de-skilling that had a significant impact on trained health workers who had hoped to recover their professional careers after completing the LCP. For example, none was aware of what limited educational opportunities were available to them while working under the Program thus further

  • Live-In Caregivers in Rural and Small City Alberta. (2004-6). Funded by SSHRC-Metropolis Program. Awarded to Denise L. Spitzer.

We used interviews and focus group to elicit information about the experiences of LCP workers living and working in small cities and rural regions of the Province. In addition, we surveyed local community, governmental and spiritual institutions to ascertain what kind of formal and informal support they provided to LCP workers in their communities. The paucity of informational as well as emotional support was particularly challenging for live-in caregivers outside of larger cities, making it even more difficult for them to plan for their post-LCP careers and lives.

  • The Land of Milk and Honey? After the Live-In Caregiver Program. (2005-8). Funded by SSHRC. Awarded to Denise L. Spitzer, Karen Hughes, Jacqueline Oxman-Martinez, and Jill Hanley.

In this multi-method study, we examined the life trajectories of former LCP workers in Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal focusing primarily on their labour market participation and their health and well-being. Respondents shared the difficult decisions they faced after completing the Program and most often those decisions resulted in their own career aspirations being set aside.

  • Transnational Families in Transition: Filipino Families, Canadian Issues. (2008-11). Funded by SSHRC. Awarded to Denise L. Spitzer.

In this study, we interviewed former LCP workers and family members of former live-in caregivers in Ottawa and Edmonton to learn more about their experiences of family separation and reunification. In addition, we facilitated the production of two photo-voice presentations: one with a former LCP worker and another with a group of reunited youth. This project enabled us to deepen our understanding of the fraught decision-making process that compelled most respondents to forfeit their own careers to hasten the family reunification process. The extended period of deskilling also contributed to the decision by many of the health workers to re-train in related, but lower skilled and more poorly waged positions than they had studied for in the Philippines.

Select Publication

  • "From Temporary Worker to Resident: The LCP and its Impact Through an Intersectional Lens." (In press). Torres, S., Spitzer, D. L., Hughes, K., Oxman-Martinez, and Hanley, J. In Legislated Inequality: Temporary Foreign Migrants in Canada, edited by P. Lenard and C. Straehle, Ottawa: McGIll-Queen's University Press.
  • "Oppression and Im/migrant Health in Canada." (2012). Spitzer, D. L In Oppression and Health, edited by E. McGibbon. Halifax: Fernwood Press.
  • "Work, Worries and Weariness: Towards an Embodied and Engendered Migrant Health."(2011). Spitzer, D. L. In Engendering Migrant Health: Canadian Perspectives, edited by D. L Spitzer. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Globalization and the Health Worker Migration Crisis. (2007). Labonte, R., Packer, C. and Spitzer, D. L. Geneva: WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.

Select Presentation

  • "I am a LCP": Reconfigured Identities and Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada. Spitzer, D. L. (2010). 15th International Metropolis Conference, Hague, Netherlands, October 7.
  • Ruptured Lives and Reconfigured Identities: The Impact of Foreign Domestic Work on the Lives of Migrant Women in Canada. Spitzer, D. L. (2009). The Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas (MESEA) and the Korean Association for Feminist Studies in English Literature, June 13, Seoul, Korea.
  • We're Survivors. . . It's in the Blood: Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada. Spitzer, D. L. (2008). Women's Worlds Congress 2008, Madrid, Spain, July 7.
  • Intersecting Women's Work, Women's Health and Migration Status: The Case of Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada. Spitzer, D. L. (2008). The 6th Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas (MESEA) Conference, Leiden, the Netherlands, June 26.
  • Making the Most of It: Life after the Live-In Caregiver Program. Spitzer, D. L., Hughes, K., Oxman-Martinez, J., and Hanley, J. (2006). 11th Metropolis Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, October 5.
  • Illuminating the Loss of the Healthy Immigrant Effect: The Case of Foreign Domestic Care-Workers in Canada. Spitzer, D. L. (2006). 11th World Congress on Public Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 25.
  • Canada's Live-In Caregiver Program: In Whose Interests? Spitzer, D. L. (2006). COMPAS Annual Conference, Oxford University, UK, July 2.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 August 2012 08:34