“We’re all Chinese”. The freedom to express our diversity…or not.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a Chinese medical school and spend some time with both faculty and students. The leadership of the school was interested in pursuing North American accreditation. I was part of a team invited to advise about the state of compliance with those standards, and to help prepare the faculty and curricular leadership for the review process.

The visit was organized in the style of a typical accreditation visit, structured as a series of interviews with groups of faculty, curricular leaders, students and administrative staff. Each meeting was typically focused on a subset of standards.

One such meeting, which I’d been dreading, involved the accreditation standards dealing with the issue of Diversity. I was not at all sure how the North American sensibility regarding diversity would translate to such a different cultural and political setting, and was concerned about inadvertently causing some offense to our hosts, who had been nothing but gracious.

The meeting involved about ten faculty and administrative staff. They were chosen, in part, because of facility in English, but their understanding and ability to express responses varied considerably. As a result, questions were often followed by spontaneous conversations in Mandarin where those with better understanding would translate to others and, presumably, responses were considered and formulated. These “huddles” sometimes got quite animated and the tone and gestures themselves seemed very revealing.

The preliminary questions for this particular session were quite straightforward, generally confirmation of factual information. All was going along quite smoothly with a generally light and friendly atmosphere in the room. Then, and in the interest of simulating a true accreditation visit, I probed further. “And how do your admission practices and curriculum recognize the diversity of your population?”

The previously relaxed and animated group went quiet, all eyes on me. After what seemed like a very long pause, the faculty member who’d been the lead discussant for the group asked me to clarify what I meant by “diversity”.

I tried to explain that North American medical school standards required a commitment to social accountability, a component of which was the recognition of cultural, gender and ethnic differences in the students and society they would eventually serve.

My explanation was translated to the group, followed by the most animated and prolonged exchange they’d had to date. The other panel members and I sat back taking all this in. The expressions and tone suggested confusion, perhaps mild offense and considerable concern about how to respond.

After what seemed like quite a long and somewhat uncomfortable time, the lead faculty member turned to me and said simply, “We’re all Chinese”

With more than a little trepidation, I decided to press on. “But I’ve read recently that there are over 50 different ethnic and cultural groups within China. Diversity also extends to issues of gender and sexual orientation. How is that diversity accounted for in your admissions and faculty appointment processes, for example?”

After another translation, an even longer and more animated Mandarin huddle ensued. Finally, the response:

“But, we’re all Chinese”.

In the interests of maintaining good relations and ensuring the review team got home safely, I decided to leave it at that.

In the ensuing months, my thoughts have often returned to that particular exchange. Of all the conversations during that visit, that was the one that brought home most clearly the differences in our societies. Fundamentally, the Chinese political structure and the values that it espouses prioritize the state over the individual. It’s not that myriad cultural, racial, religious and language differences don’t exist or are unimportant to their 1.5 billion citizens, it’s simply that those differences are considered secondary to their common, unifying allegiance to the state. They’re all Chinese first. Other characteristics, choices or preferences come second, or not at all. They have, as a society, essentially chosen to suppress or ignore their diversity.

All this is in rather stark contrast to our culture in Canada where diversity is celebrated and even legislated, permeating even our educational programs. We are free, as Canadians, to identify in (almost) any way and with (almost) any group we chose, the exceptions being organizations that are known to advocate violence or hatred in the pursuit of their particular perceptions of diversity.

I came away from all this with a deeper appreciation of the incredible privilege our society provides. The freedom to choose how one wishes to be identified is precious. It’s also easily taken for granted, largely because most of us have never had to struggle to achieve it, and have never lived without it.

What my brief and admittedly superficial encounter with Chinese culture brought home to me is that we all have the freedom to choose how we wish to engage each other, and how we collectively wish to engage the world. For any two people, indeed for any two peoples, both common and differentiating issues can be easily identified. In any encounter, from simple to profound, the parties involved face a choice. Their encounter and their ongoing relationship can be defined by points of mutual interest, or by those characteristics that divide them.  

All this brings to mind the words of President John F. Kennedy who, in a commencement address at American University in 1963, at the height of the Cold War, nuclear proliferation and the constant threat of accidental or intentional Armageddon, reached out to both his own people and his global adversaries with these words:

“So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”

How will we, as Canadians, chose to use the freedom of choice that we have inherited? From time to time, might our chosen approach to our various diversity challenges be “We’re all Canadian”?

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Who decides when the job is done?

How would you choose to pay the people entrusted with fire prevention and control in your community? One would hope that, whatever the method, it provided those with the appropriate knowledge and skill the freedom to operate without interference in the interests of those in need.

Imagine a world where fire fighters were directed in their efforts by a pre-determined public policy edict that required them to stop their efforts after some defined time limit, regardless of the condition of the building or its inhabitants.

Sounds absurd, but this is exactly analogous to the concerns raised in an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail April 6th, “In Ontario, a battle for the soul of psychiatry” (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-ontario-a-battle-for-the-soul-of-psychiatry/).

In it, Dr. Norman Doidge describes his frustrations with a payment system that limits the number of encounters he can provide a patient.

While agreeing wholeheartedly with the arguments raised by Dr. Doidge, I would respectfully submit that the battle goes far beyond the practice of psychiatry. The concept that decisions about the nature and duration of any patient’s condition can or should be made on the basis of fiscal concerns and by individuals or groups under governmental influence should be seen by all physicians and their patients as repugnant. While government certainly has a responsibility to exercise fiscal oversight, it is (to use a contemporary metaphor) venturing far outside “its own lane”. Patients are individuals with unique illness experiences that cannot be conveniently categorized into tidy management algorithms. Doctors, of any specialty, must be free to undertake treatment for patients based on individual needs.

Doctors, in turn, must earn and safeguard that right. Our professional organizations should rise to the challenge posed by Dr. Doidge’s article with the same vigour that they have engaged issues of reimbursement, and the distribution of a few percentage points of income. Providing optimal patient care must trump income issues. Failure to do so rightfully condemns.

The profession and government should jointly recognize that the “covenant” between the government and people of Canada to provide universal, comprehensive health care is being broken daily, suffering death from a thousand cuts. Only with collective and collaborative recognition of that reality and engagement by a profession and government mutually focused on the interests of the people of Ontario can solutions even begin.

The fire fighters battling to save Notre Dame cathedral in Paris this past week didn’t stop their efforts until they had done everything possible. Those men and women were in a position of public trust that was not defined by the clock or budgets. Doctors are in a similar position of public trust which must be defended. I suspect Dr. Doidge will continue to care for his patient, but it will be despite and not because of our “system”. Our patients deserve better. We all deserve better.

(Portions of this article were published in the Globe and Mail April 9, 2019 as a letter to the editor)

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It Takes a Village: Thanks to all involved in our Medical School Admission process

Over two weekends in March, over 500 applicants are invited to our school to undertake interviews, the final phase of our medical school admission process. They have been selected from over 5,000 who submitted applications.

That process, designed by our Admissions Committee, is the product of much thought and deliberation, with the goal of fairly and objectively matching the aspirations and attributes of applicants to those required to assure success not only in medical school, but in the practice of medicine and service of patients.

The process is a massive undertaking, requiring the participation of no fewer than 179 of our faculty and virtually all members of our first- and second-year classes. In fact, our admission process is the most resource intensive activity undertaken by our school.

Each year, I’m amazed and grateful for the willingness of our faculty and students to give of their time and energy for this purpose. File reviews and interviews are both carried out after regular work hours and on weekends, requiring sacrifice of precious personal time. Why do they do it? They recognize, I believe, that this admission process is critical not only to our success as a school, but for the future well-being of our profession and the society we serve.

Our applicants are also impressed. They consistently comment on the effort, which brings credit to our school and demonstrates a learning environment where faculty and students work together in mutual dedication to our school and profession.

I would like to recognize and extend sincere thanks to all the faculty members involved, who will be listed below. The numbers indicate those who filled multiple assignments. I’d like to particularly note the contributions of Drs. Fred Watkins and Mariana Silva, who were both involved in all aspects of both the File Review and Interview process.  

I’d also like to thank our first- and second- year classes. I’d initially thought about listing them as well, but quickly realized that was unnecessary since there was essentially no one to exclude! Their presence and support of applicants speaks volumes about their support of our school, and confirms to me that the process is working well. Special thanks to first year president and vice-president Andriy Katyukha and Victoria-Lee Kim who organized their class events and made no fewer than eight presentations to applicants.

Finally, I’d like to recognize three individuals who deserve particular recognition, our Assistant Dean of Admissions, Dr. Hugh MacDonald, Admission Officer Rebecca Jozsa, and Admissions Assistant Rachel Bauder. They oversee a very complex process that ran flawlessly.

Faculty Members Involved in the Admission Process

Joseph Abunassar

Amy Acker (2)

Melissa Andrew  

Yuka Asai

Sussan Askari (2)

Oyedeji Ayonrinde

Allan Baer (2)

Lauren Badalato

Stephen Bagg

Susan Bartel

Erin Beattie

Robert Bechara

Darren Beiko

Sita Bhella 

Liz Blackmore 

Lysa Boisse Lomax 

Mark Bona (2)

Rozita Borici-Mazi (2)

Olga Bougie

J. Gordon Boyd  

Michele Boyd 

Heather Braybrook

Eric Bruder

Jessica Burjorjee

Jonathan Butler

Cait Button  

Cassi Cabrera  

Rob Campbell

Susan Chamberlain

Tim Childs

Cheryl Cline (3)

Ken Collins (2)

Robert Connelly (3)

Susan Crocker

Rachael DaCunha

Christine D’Arsigny (2)

Peggy DeJong

Alexandra Di Lazzaro

Kimberly Dow

Scott Dugan

Dale Engen

Gerald Evans

Matthew Faris

Pat Farmer

Paul Fenton  

Jennifer Flemming (3)

Chris Frank

Kan Frederick (2)

Imelda Galvin

Jocelyn Garland

Stephen Gauthier

Michelle Gibson  

Craig Goldie

Tom Gonder (2)

David Good

Mike Green (2)

Richard Gregg (3)

Andrea Grin (2)

Dianne Groll (3)

Andrea Guerin (2)

Karen Hall Barber (2)

Tim Hanna

Hailey Hobbs 

Sharleen Hoffe  

Lawrence Hookey  

Marisa Horniachek (4)

Robyn Houlden (3)

David Hurlbut (4)

Felicia Iftene (2)

Omar Islam (4)

Melanie Jaeger

Zardasht Jaff  

Diederick Jalink

Paula James  

John Jeffrey  

Albert Jin 

Ana Johnson 

Amer Johri  

Ruzica Jokic  

Mala Joneja (2)

Gord Jones

Cherie Jones-Hiscock (4)

Sarosh Khalid-Khan (3)

Frederick Khan

Faiza Khurshid (2)

Julia Kirkham

Greg Klar  

Dusan Kolar

Benjamin Kwan  

Alenia Kysela (3)

Christine Law

Joshua Lakoff  

David LeBrun  

Kirk Leifso (3)

Michael Leveridge  

Catherine Lowe  

Athen Macdonald (2)

Gillian MacLean (3)

Peter MacPherson  

Olga Makaewnko  

Paul Manley (2)

Laura Marcotte  

Kristen Marosi   

Tara McGregor

Sarah McKnight (2)

Stephen McNevin (2)

Alex Menard (2)

Daniel Mendonca  

Laura Milne

Anne Moffat (5)

Andrea Moore  

Benvon Moran (2)

Karim Mukhida  

Heather Murray  

Pallavi Nadkarni  

Brigid Nee

Helene Ouellette-Kuntz

Raveen Pal (2)

Stephen Pang (2)

Archana Patel

Tim Phillips  

William Pickett

Armita Rahmani (2)

Andrea Ratzlaff  

Damian Redfearn  

David Reed

Cara Reimer

Stacy Ridi

Benjamin Ritsma (2)

Johanne Roberge

Nasreen Roberts

David Ruggles (3)

Danielle Rumbolt

Tarit Saha

Dawa Samdup

Karen Schultz

Ian Sempowski  

M. Khaled Shamseddin (2)

Gavin Shanks

Mariana Silva (9)

Ian Silver

 Matt Simpson

Sarah Simpson  

Harpreet Singh  

Marco Sivilotti (2)

Ronald Smith 

John Smythe

Siddhartha Srivastava

Yi Ning Strube  

Devin Sydor

Rob Tanzola (2)

Emidio Tarulli  

Julie Tessier

Richard Thomas

Benjamin Thomson  

Naji Touma (2)

Anthony Train

Tanveer Towheed

Jessica Trier (3)

Kim Turner

Todd Urton (3)

Janet van Vlymen 

Maria Velez (2)

Ashley Waddington (3)

Ross Walker  

Ami Wang (4)

Fred Watkins (9)

Shayna Watson (2)

Erica Weir 

Hasitha Welihinda (2)

Nishardi Wijeratne

Heather White

Andrea Winthrop  

Stephanie Wood  

Gavin Wood (3)

Jeremy Wu  

David Yen (3)

Khaled Zaza  

Shetuan Zhang

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Evaluating the Student Experience: Assessing satisfaction is important, but not enough

“Universities are centres of learning, not teaching”

These were the words, uttered many years ago, by a former professor and teacher in response to some very demurely and deferentially expressed comments about the quality of lectures being provided in a particular medical school course. The message, directed to me and a couple of my classmates, was pretty clear. The university and faculty would provide opportunities to learn, in whatever manner they felt appropriate. It was not for us, as mere students and consumers, to question the methods. The responsibility for our education was ours.

In fact, in recent discussions with a number of my medical school contemporaries who I’m fortunate to meet with regularly, none of us could recall, during our four years of medical school, ever being asked for feedback of any kind about our educational program. If such processes existed, either internal or external to the school, they were largely invisible to the students of that time. This was certainly not unique to our school. For our generation, medical education was very much a “take it or leave it” proposition.  

This is not to say we didn’t get excellent teaching, role modelling and mentorship. We certainly did, and many of us found our inspiration for education in those early experiences. It’s also almost certainly true that many of the teachers of that time quietly observed and responded to the impact of their methods on their learners. However, the culture of the day simply did not provide methods by which the student experience could be collected and analyzed.

This rather parochial approach was not exclusive to medical education. Patients of the past were rarely, if ever, surveyed for feedback about the quality of care they received from institutions or individual physicians. Corporations and businesses largely allowed the public to “vote with their feet”. If the product wasn’t good, people wouldn’t buy it, or would simply walk away.

Clearly, things have changed.

In the business world “Consumer Satisfaction” is an industry in itself. Successful businesses aggressively seek out customer feedback because they have learned that responding to real or even perceived needs drives future spending. IBM has taken this a step further. They go beyond the need to ask questions and, instead, are building and offering services that track consumer behaviour and provide that information to service and product providers. To quote from their site: 

In health care, knowledge of the patient experience is now considered essential to a well- run institution. Hospitals are expected, through accrediting processes, to actively seek out patient perspectives

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality operates within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is “to produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable”. To quote from their site:

“Understanding patient experience is a key step in moving toward patient-centered care. By looking at various aspects of patient experience, one can assess the extent to which patients are receiving care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values. Evaluating patient experience along with other components such as effectiveness and safety of care is essential to providing a complete picture of health care quality.” (https://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/about-cahps/patient-experience/index.html)

They make an important distinction between patient satisfaction and the patient experience. Satisfaction is a subjective impression of a patient’s interaction with an institution or individual, and is largely based on whether their personal expectations were met. The patient experience relates to gathering information, available only through patient reporting, that is relevant to determining whether certain institutional goals are being achieved.

A person test driving a new automobile, for example, is able to report on both the driving experience (acceleration, braking, ease of handling, visibility etc…) and their personal satisfaction (enjoyment, comfort, excitement) driving the car. To those designing and building the car, evaluating the driving experience allows them to determine if the equipment and concepts they developed are working as expected. Evaluating driver satisfaction determines whether the consumer is getting what was expected from the car, which may be unclear to the designers. Both are relevant to success. Both are certainly relevant to the likelihood that the consumer will purchase the car.

In medical education, the value of student feedback is widely appreciated and schools go to considerable effort and expense to collect it. In fact, the systematic collection of feedback is mandated by accreditation standards, and the evidence required to establish compliance with those standards is based largely on student feedback. The distinction between measurements of the student experience and student satisfaction is relevant, both being important goals. Systematic Program Evaluation must encompass both.

At Queen’s, we recognize that many goals of our educational program can only be fully assessed with the perspective of those actually experiencing and living the process. We also recognize that a full picture only emerges if many points of feedback are provided. We have therefore put in place many and varied opportunities for students to provide both their personal perspectives and objective observations.

After each course, students are invited (and expected) to provide feedback that consists of responses to questions exploring pre-determined educational objectives, and provision for narrative commentary in which they can elaborate or explore other aspects. Those end-of-course evaluations also provide opportunity to provide similar feedback regarding the effectiveness of teaching faculty.

We receive and carefully review the results of course-related examinations undertaken by our students, not only to gauge their learning, but also the effectiveness of the teaching and learning opportunities provided.

We anticipate and review closely the results of external examinations undertaken by our students, such as the Medical Council of Canada Part 1 and 2 examinations, and all National Board of Medical Examiners tests we utilize. These provide valuable comparators to other institutions and, to a limited extent, further feedback about our teaching effectiveness.

The Canadian Graduation Questionnaire is completed annually by all graduating medical students and provides a comprehensive review of all aspects of their educational experience. We review it in great detail, and many aspects of the CGQ are incorporated into the accreditation process.

Dr. John Drover

We have established a Program Evaluation Committee that, for the past few years has been under the leadership of Dr. John Drover. That group collects, collates and analyzes data from a variety of sources to provide an overarching analysis of our performance relative to our programmatic goals. The PEC recently released a comprehensive report, which has been passed along to the Curriculum Committee for analysis and action. I am very grateful to Dr. Drover who has generously and effectively provided PEC leadership. He is now passing that role along to Dr. Cherie Jones as she assumes her role as Assistant Dean, Academic Affairs and Programmatic Quality Assurance.  

We have also developed a number of more informal ways by which students can provide feedback.

We meet regularly with student leadership and curricular leads to get “on the fly” feedback about courses as they are taught. This often causes us to undertake adjustments or provide supplemental content even before the course is completed.

We provide numerous ways in which students can report personal distress or incidences of mistreatment at any point during their medical school experience. These range from direct contact with selected faculty members, our external counselor (who can be contacted directly and is completely segregated from faculty or assessment) or submission of reports that can be embargoed until a mutually agreed to time. All these are outlined in our policies and accessible through convenient “Red Button” on MedTech.

I have found “Town Halls” to be very valuable sources of feedback on all aspects of the MD program. These are held at least once per term with each class and consist of a few “current events” items I provide, followed by “open mike” time when students are invited to bring forward any commentary or questions they may have, about any aspect of the program. The issues that emerge and dialogue among students in attendance can be highly revealing and have certainly provoked new directions and changes over the years.

Recognizing that not all students are comfortable with speaking out, or may not wish to be identified as they raise sensitive issues, a confidential portal was established on MedTech a number of years ago. Students are able to provide their commentary in a completely anonymous fashion if they wish. My commitment is to read and consider (but not necessarily act on) all commentary provided, and to respond personally if students choose to identify themselves. To date, I have received almost 500 such submissions, about 70% of which are provided anonymously. The commentary has been thoughtfully provided and has spanned all aspects of our program and learning environment. Importantly, it often brought to light issues that had not previously emerged in any other way.

In all these ways, student feedback has become a continuing, multi-faceted component of our school and, more broadly, our learning environment. It goes beyond being a mechanical, mandated exercise and data collection. It is embedded and cultural. It is what we do. It is who we are. 

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Residency Match Day 2019: What our students are experiencing, and how to help them get through it

If life were a roller coaster, our fourth year students have, for the past few months, been on quite a wild ride, slowly rumbling upward, gradually ascending to the summit, stopping for a moment as they stare downward to a distant, small landing point, readying themselves for a rapid and rather scary descent.

The process by which learners transition from undergraduate to postgraduate medical education has evolved into a rather jarring and extremely stressful experience (don’t get me started – a subject for another blog/rant). It has required them to not simply consider what specialties are best suited to their interests and skills, but engage an application process that requires strategic selection of elective experiences, preparation of voluminous documents, meeting multiple deadlines (twelve, no less), and commitment of personal time and expense to travel and interviewing which, for many, spans the country in the midst of the Canadian winter.

This year, the roller coaster reaches its summit at 12:00 noon on February 26th. The much anticipated Residency “Match Day” is when all fourth year medical students in Canada learn which postgraduate program they will be entering. By approximately 12:00:05 that day, all students will know their fate.  As you can imagine, there will be much anticipation and anxiety leading up to the release.  For most (hopefully all), the roller coaster ride will end with the exhilaration and satisfaction of having successfully overcome the process. For a few (and hopefully none), it will bring a realization that their efforts to date have not been successful, that their ride is not yet over, and they have to begin again. They will be profoundly disappointed, they will be afraid, they will be confused. They will need the understanding and help of the faculty who are currently supervising their training, and much help from our Student Affairs staff.    

This year, we are again prepared to provide all necessary supports, but there are a few changes to the process which I’d like to clarify for both students and the faculty that will be supervising them that day:

  • Unlike previous years, our Undergraduate Office will not automatically receive match results the day before the full release. However, students have the option of directing CaRMS to release their results the day before (February 25th) if they fail to match. They can do so by going into the CaRMS website and providing the appropriate permission.
  • Any unmatched students who have allowed early release will be contacted directly by myself to notify them of the result. This is for three purposes:
    • to arrange for immediate release from clinical duties
    • to allow the student some time to prepare for the release moment the following day when most of their classmates will be hearing positive results
    • to arrange for the student to meet our student counselors who will provide personal support and begin the process for re-application through the second iteration of the residency match. 
  • Unmatched students who did not opt to provide early release will similarly be contacted and offered the same support and services after we get their results on match day.
  • Because we may not have full information in advance, we have decided to release all students from clinical obligations beginning noon on match day, until the following morning.

I’d also like to remind all faculty supervising our fourth year students on or around match day to anticipate that your student will be distracted. Please ensure your student is able to review the results at noon. If you sense he or she is disappointed with the result, please be advised that the student counselors and myself are standing by that day to help any student deal with the situation and provide support.

Fortunately, we have an outstanding Student Affairs team which has been working hard to guide the students through the career exploration and match process, and will be standing by to provide support for match day and beyond.


Dr. Renee Fitzpatrick Assistant Dean, Student Affairs rf6@queensu.ca

Dr. Erin Beattie, Careers Counselor, ebeattie@queensu.ca
Dr. Josh Lakoff Career Counselor, jml7@queensu.ca
Dr. Mike McMullen, Careers Counselor, Michael.mcmullen@kingstonhsc.ca
Erin Meyer, Assistant to Directors, Student Affairs
Lynne Ozanne, Assistant to Directors, Student Affairs

The team can be accessed through our Student Affairs office learnerwellness@queensu.ca, or 613-533-6000 x78451. 

Thanks for your consideration, and please feel free to get in touch with myself or any of the Student Affairs Team if you have questions or concerns about Match Day or beyond.

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A Brief History of Walls

Are walls effective? As we’re all aware, this seemingly innocent question has become a focus of considerable controversy for our neighbours to the south. Of course, it’s not about the sort of walls that separate rooms of your house, or the barriers around your property that deter trespassers and prevent your dog from molesting your neighbour’s flower bed. Rather it’s about massive barricades erected by political leaders to prevent or control the movement of large populations of people at borders. As it happens, there’s a rather interesting and intriguing history of such structures, both real and mythical.

 

Hadrian’s Wall

Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus (76-132 AD) ruled when the Roman Empire was at its peak and is considered by many historians to be one of the “good emperors”. He seemed less interested in further expansion than in consolidation and security of his already vast empire. As part of that approach, he commissioned the building of a wall to define and secure the northernmost extent of the empire. Construction of Hadrian’s Wall began in AD 122. The wall is composed mostly of stone and is about 10 feet wide and up to 10 to 20 feet in height. The wall connects a series of fortifications located every 5 (Roman) miles. It runs about 73 miles, from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea in the east, to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea to the west. It required a garrison of about 1,500 men and was intended to prevent the “barbarians” (ancient Britons and Picts) from troubling Roman Britain.

Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, seemed to like the concept but felt the boundary should be expanded and so, in 138 AD constructed a second wall about 100 miles to the north. The Antonine Wall was 40 miles in length. Despite the wall, Antoninus was unable to contain the northern tribes and so subsequent emperors abandoned his wall and re-occupied Hadrian’s Wall.

Today, Hadrian’s Wall is a tourist destination. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, but remains unguarded. Tourists commonly climb and stand on the wall, although this is not encouraged for fear of damage to the historic structure.

 

 

The Walls of Troy

Troy was an ancient city located on the northwest coast of Turkey.

Archeological research of that site has revealed that it has been inhabited since about 3000 BC. Dutch researcher Gert Jan van Wijngaarden notes in a chapter of “Troy: City, Homer and Turkey” (University of Amsterdam, 2013) that there are at least ten settlements layered on top of each other.  

It is not clear whether the ten year siege by Greeks led by King Agamemnon and described so famously in Homer’s Iliad is wholly or even partially true, but both the legend and the archeologic evidence indicate that the city was, at one time, surrounded by a rather impressive defensive wall. Van Wijngaarden notes that deep under the surface evidence exists of a“small city surrounded by a defensive wall of unworked stone.” In the period after 2550 B.C, the city “was considerably enlarged and furnished with a massive defensive wall made of cut blocks of stone and rectangular clay bricks”.

The legend, of course, indicates that the Trojans were able to hold out for ten years, but the wall was eventually overcome not by force but by clever deception: Ulysses famous “Trojan Horse”.

 

The Walls of Babylon

Babylon was a city and city-state located in Mesopotamia and a dominant presence in the world for over twelve centuries, ending about 600 BC. It was a key commercial and cultural centre and it is believed that, at various times, Babylon was the largest city in the world, and perhaps the first with a population exceeding 250,000.

A prominent feature of Babylon were its extensive walls. Various rulers would add successively to the work of their predecessors. Nebuchadrezzar II surpassed most by fortifying the existing double wall and actually adding a third. He also added a separate wall north of the city between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Considered to be over 100 feet high at points and extending 41 miles, both the sheer magnitude and artistic features of the walls were remarkable, notable particularly for the “hanging gardens”. They are considered one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”.

Extensive efforts have been made to excavate various components of the ancient city, which has been partially reconstructed as a historic and tourist site. Unfortunately, the reconstruction has been damaged by the development of oil pipelines and military conflicts.  In April 2006, American Colonel John Coleman, former Chief of Staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, issued an apology for the damage done by military personnel under his command.

 

The Great Wall of China

Perhaps the most famous extant wall in the world was built to protect the then northern border of China from invasion by various nomadic tribes. The “Great Wall” was actually built in portions over several centuries beginning in the 7th century BC

and finally enlarged and united into a single structured with embedded towers and fortifications. The main construction of the existing wall dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In addition to its defensive purpose, the wall also had a border control function, controlling immigration and, serving as a tariff collection station for goods being transported along the “Silk Road” between eastern and western markets.

It extends 21,196 km making it clearly the most extensive wall ever constructed. Whether it is the only man-made structure visible from space is a point of contention. There has never actually been a recorded “sighting” from space, although a Chinese astronaut in the space station claims to have taken a photograph using high resolution equipment. What is clear is that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of modern China. Although many portions of the wall are in disrepair and eroding, it remains an extremely popular tourist attraction, arguably, the world’s most sought-after selfie opportunity.

SONY DSC

 

 

The Berlin Wall

A more contemporary example is the Berlin wall that physically divided that city between 1961 and 1989. Its history is both fascinating and instructive.

After World War II, the Potsdam Agreement determined that the victorious allies would divide Germany into four zones of occupation controlled by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. The German capital, Berlin, was the centre of administrative control of all four powers and so was similarly divided into four sectors. However, Berlin was entirely within the Soviet controlled portion of former Germany. Within a short period of time, political tensions mounted between the Soviets and the other three nations, largely related to the Soviets’ reluctance to agree to the Marshall Plan which called for the reconstruction, self-governance and economic support of post-war Germany. The United States, United Kingdom and France decided to proceed nonetheless, uniting their portions into a single country which came to be called West Germany (officially, the Federal Republic of Germany), with a capital located in Bonn. East Germany (known as the German Democratic Republic) emerged as a separate and Soviet controlled state, with its capital in Berlin. This left Berlin under divided governance but entirely within a separate and rather unfriendly state.

East Germans began to use West Berlin as a means to defect to western countries. It is estimated that 3.5 million circumvented emigration regulations by simply crossing into West Berlin and then on to West Germany and other countries. To prevent this exodus, the GDR (East German) leadership constructed a concrete, militarized wall essentially separating and isolating West Berlin within East Germany. During the time it was in place, over 100,000 people attempted to escape and about 5,000 succeeded in doing so. They were taking serious risks. According to the Centre for Contemporary History, a research institute concentrating on recent European history, at least 140 people are known to have been killed attempting to cross the wall, ranging from a one-year old child to 80-year old woman. Most believe the number to be considerably higher.

Eventually bowing to anti-communist sentiments in neighbouring countries and civil unrest, the East German government lifted restrictions on movement within Berlin in November of 1989, which led to open and euphoric celebration. People began chipping away parts of the wall until the government removed what was left of it. Germany officially became re-unified October 3, 1990.

Today, only small segments of the wall remain, including “Checkpoint Charlie”, its best known militarized crossing point. The Berlin wall is seen as a failed attempt by a government to impose its will on its citizens. Because it is so recent in our collective memory and so well documented, it has become a powerful image of oppression and courageous defiance. It too has become a popular tourist destination.

 

“The Wall” (Game of Thrones version)

The most famous albeit imaginary wall of our time no doubt comes from “Game of Thrones”, a hugely popular HBO series based on the fantasy novels of George R.R. Martin. A key feature is “The Wall”, a massive fortified structure composed of solid ice stretching across the northern border of the “Seven Kingdoms”. It is intended to provide protection from the various miscreants beyond, including “Wildlings” and a wandering army of frozen zombies referred to as the “White Walkers”.

Seemingly inspired by Hadrian’s Wall, this frozen barricade stretches from coast to coast, has fortifications along the way, and is manned by a garrison of exiled misfits referred to as the “Night’s Watch”. Apparently, Wildlings and White Walkers don’t swim or paddle. In any case, the wall has held up for millennia but, guess what happened at the end of last season?

 

(SPOILER ALERT: stop reading if you’re catching up on the series).

 

 

It comes down!!!….courtesy of a resuscitated and demonically-possessed fire-breathing dragon, no less! We’ll have to wait until next season to see if it becomes a tourist attraction.

 

 

And so, what does all this teach us about massive walls (real or imaginary) intended to separate populations of people? What themes and lessons emerge?

  1. They don’t work. People (even zombies) are smarter than walls, and are very capable of finding ways to overcome them. This is particularly true of people who are seeking better lives for themselves or families. Walls are static structures that can be overcome by imagination, determination and technology.
  2. Walls are hugely symbolic. They serve as a very visible expression of the values and priorities of those who construct them. The fences around our homes may not actually prevent a determined person from entering our property, but they certainly clarify for all the world that uninvited folks are unwelcome.
  3. They endure over time as artefacts, searched out and studied by historians and archeologists. They express and expose for posterity the true, unvarnished values and motives of those who constructed them. This persists long after they stop providing their original, intended purpose.
  4. They seem to serve as ideal, although expensive, tourist attractions.

If the planned wall does get built, can’t help but wonder how future generations will interpret the existence of a massive barricade on the southern border of a nation that also erected this other symbol at its major eastern port, proudly declaring to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Service Before Self: The Legacy of George H.W. Bush

I’ve always liked George Herbert Walker Bush.

I realize, as I write those words, that it’s somewhat inappropriate and maybe even a little pretentious to use the term “liked” in reference to a former President of the United States who I never met or knew personally. It implies a familiarity I certainly can’t claim. Words like “respected” or “admired” might be more suitable, and are certainly applicable. But, in truth, “liked” is what comes immediately to mind. So, why is that? I think it’s because what has resonated with me as I’ve watched and read the various tributes since his passing a couple of weeks ago, and what probably resonates with most Canadians, are the fundamental human qualities- honesty and vulnerability-he maintained through his life. A few quotations provide insight into the character of the man.

In describing his neurologic symptoms that confined him to a wheelchair during his later years:

“It just affects the legs. It’s not painful. You tell your legs to move and they don’t move. It’s strange, but if you have some bad-sounding disease, this is a good one to get.”

While he was president, he famously indulged a life-long food preference by banning broccoli on Air Force One:

“I do not like broccoli. I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

In ending a contentious discussion with his Secretary of State James Baker:

“If you’re so smart, Baker, why am I president and you’re not?”

How can you not like someone so genuine?

Despite being what we might term a person of privilege, he seemed and acted like a regular, decent, fair and unfailingly respectful person caught up in powerful roles and great events. In terms of attitude and character he was, one might respectfully conjecture, an American that many Canadians can identify with and feel a certain kinship.

But none of that should detract from what he did or accomplished through his life. He was, arguably, the most qualified and best prepared person ever to assume the presidency, having previously served his country as a World War II combat pilot, two terms in congress, Ambassador to the United Nations, Special Envoy to China, Director of the CIA and two terms as Vice-President.

He advanced environmental concerns and worked to reduce trade barriers in North America. He led the US at a time when it was the only significant superpower in the world and could therefore have exerted unilateral authority. But he chose not to. Instead, he responded to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by firstly seeking the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister of the time, Brian Mulroney, and then working through the United Nations to form a multi-national coalition to engage the threat. When the former Soviet Union collapsed, he cautioned against gloating and maintained a respectful attitude. In a recent statement current Russian President Vladimir Putin provided the following tribute:

“George Bush Sr. was well aware of the importance of a constructive dialogue between the two major nuclear powers and took great efforts to strengthen Russian-American relations and cooperation in international security,”

 

He never wrote an autobiography, but wrote thousands of personal letters, casually composed but highly articulate and poignant, cherished by those who received them.

What is perhaps most remarkable about him is that, despite being what we might consider a “person of privilege” who could easily have chosen a life of quiet and private comfort, he made deliberate choices to engage public service, beginning with his decision to drop out of school and voluntarily enlist in the Navy at the age of 18 against family advice. He became a naval aviator undertaking 58 combat missions, during one of which he was shot down and had to be rescued at sea. That would have been enough for most people. Returning home after the war, he could easily and understandably have entered a comfortable private life as a successful businessman, but instead chose public service leading to the numerous positions and culminating in the presidency in 1988.

His family members, who have themselves taken up positions of social and political responsibility, remember his exhortation of “Service before Self”.

Perhaps the most revealing GHW Bush quotation are the words of a note he left in the Oval Office for his successor, Bill Clinton, who defeated him in the 1992 presidential election:

 

The last five sentences are perhaps the most telling of all and speak volumes about the author

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck,
George

Truly a life of Service before Self. A legacy and example for his nation. Indeed, for us all.

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The Essential Elements of Medical Education Transcend Politics and Culture

How do you judge a medical school? Specifically, how do you know if it’s providing an effective educational experience for its students? There’s no shortage of perspectives on that question. Everyone involved in medical education, from first year students to Deans, will happily weigh in. Theories and opinions abound, ranging from the rigorous application of systematic Program Evaluation involving the collection, processing and consideration of multiple pre-determined sources of data, to the “I know it when I see it” approach. Our accrediting agencies certainly favour a data driven approach, now requiring the analysis of twelve standards which break down to 95 elements requiring the collection and reporting of literally hundreds of individual points of information.

I was recently faced with this question, with the added complexity that the medical school was situated in a country with very different political and social structures than our own, and very different challenges to the delivery of health care. The school was in a large (very large) city in China, and I was part of a small team asked to provide perspectives on a recently developed English language program.

The obvious and perhaps easiest approach is to measure it against our established, North American accreditation standards. However, I found many of the standards, particularly those relating to issues such as diversity, admission procedures, faculty appointments and governance, simply did not translate to that cultural context. So, I decided to concentrate instead on the essentials – those elements that are foundational to any medical education process and should retain relevance regardless of social or political context. With that in mind, I concentrated on four “essential ingredients” of medical education.

The first, and most obvious, is students. Medical education is fundamentally about student learning and their personal development as physicians. They therefore need to be capable of learning and, probably more importantly, motivated by a true commitment of service to their future patients and communities. The students I encountered certainly had those attributes. They were very well-qualified academically, highly-motivated, ambitious and adaptable. They also seemed to have high levels of social responsibility and commitment to utilizing their medical training in the interests of their society. They are also all only children which, I came to learn, puts them under considerable pressure to succeed.

Students need to encounter teaching faculty, basic scientists and clinicians committed to the process of passing along their accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom to the next generation of physicians. Their commitment must be based not simply on conditions of employment or obligations, but an almost instinctive impulse to teach that they see as part of their professional role and personal mission.

In China, I met numerous clinical faculty and curricular leaders during the visit who were uniformly committed to providing education both through formal teaching and in conjunction with their clinical responsibilities. They saw this as an embedded component of their appointments, and felt supported in their roles through provision of faculty development. When pressed, they admit that educational responsibilities are provided “over and above” their clinical or academic roles.

Together, students and teachers must encounter patients. Those patients must be accessible, representative of the conditions and circumstances students will eventually encounter, and be willing to participate in the educational process. In the Chinese school I reviewed, there was virtually unlimited and unfettered access to patients of all types. This is the result of the sheer volume of patients and pathology in a city whose population approaches that of all Canada. Whereas many Canadian schools struggle to ensure students are exposed to all clinical problems, clinical instructors in China are able to select patients for students to see and work with based on their educational needs. The Internal Medicine clerkship director pointed out how she is able to first identify what clinical problems any particular student needs to encounter, then select among multiple appropriate patients.

The fourth essential element is resources. These include space for teaching, facilities for basic science instruction and the equipment and technology necessary to provide contemporary medical care. This requires a commitment on the part of school and medical leadership to ensure resource stewardship, and mechanisms to ensure they have the means to ensure updating and refreshing into the future.

And so, in the end, the similarities were much more significant than the differences. It comes down to students, teachers and patients coming together in an environment providing adequate resources to allow the educational process to flourish. When they do, it seems education just happens, almost spontaneously. Without any of the first three fully in place, it’s not possible, even with outstanding resources.

The purpose of a medical school and its leadership is to ensure the essential elements are in place and well-supported. Once they are, education happens. The urge to learn and to teach, it would seem, transcend geography, culture and politics.

 

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Engaging Disruptive Innovation. The evolving role of POCUS in clinical medicine and medical education.

Who among us didn’t get through high school without regularly reaching for a well-thumbed encyclopedia plucked from a shelf in our parents’ basement or local library reference room? Not me, to be sure. Whether it was how rubber is manufactured, legislative accomplishments of a long-deceased prime minister, or the agricultural exports of Guatemala, the encyclopedia could always be counted on to provide reliable information, in time for whatever deadline was looming.

The word “encyclopedia” itself has an interesting and revealing etymology. It apparently contains elements of word origins for “circle” (interpreted to mean “complete” or “all-inclusive”), “child” and “education”. We all know the word to refer to a comprehensive, single source that brings together diverse information. An encyclopedia is a one-stop-shop for a little bit of everything you might need to know about anything.

The most venerable example is Encyclopædia Britannica, first published in 1768 (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Encyclopaedia-Britannica-English-language-reference-work). The 2010 edition consisted of 32 volumes and 32,640 pages. It was written by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. Contributors have included Nobel laureates and five American presidents.

That 2010 edition version was its last print edition. After 242 continuous years, Encyclopedia Britannica went out of the print business. It was a victim of what has come to be known as Disruptive Innovation.

That concept emerged in the 1990s and is most commonly attributed to Clayton M. Christensen who has written extensively on the topic as it plays out in the business world and explains the rise and failure of various enterprises.

In a 1995 Harvard Business Review article that is well worth the read (https://hbr.org/1995/01/disruptive-technologies-catching-the-wave), Christensen defines disruptive technologies in the following way:

The technological changes that damage established companies are usually not radically new or difficult from a technological point of view. They do, however, have two important characteristics: First, they typically present a different package of performance attributes—ones that, at least at the outset, are not valued by existing customers. Second, the performance attributes that existing customers do value improve at such a rapid rate that the new technology can later invade those established markets. Only at this point will mainstream customers want the technology. Unfortunately for the established suppliers, by then it is often too late: the pioneers of the new technology dominate the market.

The disruptive innovation that lead to the demise of print versions of Encyclopedia Britannica was, of course, Wikipedia. It provided an easily accessible, comprehensive and continually updated source of information at no direct cost to the consumer. The fact that it lacked historical status, cachet or even a reputation for the accuracy of its sources was glossed over by the consuming public who were very willing to set aside all those considerations for the convenience and economic advantages.

Disruptive Innovation, almost by definition, upsets existing patterns of practice or behaviour and resets the way people go about a common task or access a service. There is always a reaction from those involved in the traditional paradigm, usually characterized by statements such as

“what’s the proof this is better”

“there’s no problem with what we’re doing now”

“it hasn’t been fully researched”

“there will be unintended consequences” 

The disruptive innovators, for their part, have the courage of their convictions. They believe they understand market forces better than the established providers, and are willing to gamble that they’re right. Basically, they believe in letting the market decide.

The medical world, of course, is certainly not excluded from disruptive innovations. In fact, it has benefited greatly, but not always willingly. An example I’m very familiar with from the cardiology world is Percutaneous Coronary Angioplasty. When first introduced by Dr. Andreas Gruentzig in 1977, this innovation truly set the cardiovascular world on its collective ear. Prior to that, therapies for coronary occlusive disease were limited to medical therapies (provided by cardiologists) and coronary bypass surgery (provided by cardiac surgeons). The dichotomy and division of labour were clear and well accepted. The catheterization laboratory was a place for diagnostic investigations to determine the extent of disease, not a place for therapeutics. Gruentzig’s innovation completely upset the existing paradigm. Moreover, it put the interventional cardiologists in the driver’s seat, because they could link the therapeutic intervention to the diagnostic procedure, therefore engaging the issue first and therefore, potentially, circumventing the role of the cardiac surgeon. The simple intuitive appeal of being able to dilate an obviously obstructed vessel without the need for even a second interventional procedure, much less surgery, was powerfully compelling, and both the medical community and patients were very willing to set aside the usual and well-established need for controlled comparative trials before embracing this new technology enthusiastically.

The development of Hand-Held Ultrasound (HHU) and its clinical counterpart, Point of Care Ultrasound (POCUS), could be considered further disruptive innovations facing the medical community. Ultrasonic imaging, by virtue of its ability to provide information on a variety of structures in a non-invasive, non-toxic manner and at relatively low cost, has taken on a key role in medical diagnostics, ranging from cardiac (where it is known as Echocardiography) to abdominal, thoracic and vascular imaging. It was initially provided only with large and complex machines that were not easily transported, and provided images and measurements which were imprecise, difficult to obtain and required “expert” recording and interpretation. The technology therefore required third party interpretation and consultation before results could be reliably utilized to guide patient care.

Over the past decade or so progressive technical advances have made it possible to obtain excellent quality images from small devices that can be carried easily and used at the bedside. This technology is such that it can be used by an individual to guide the diagnostic approach and decision-making process, analogous to how physicians use stethoscopes. Although the HHU technology is not yet able to provide the full package of information that would allow it to completely replicate the comprehensive examination, it’s not unreasonable to expect that will occur in the not-too-distant future.

In addition to challenging the role of ultrasonic imaging as a diagnostic procedure, this technology is also challenging our approach to the clinical examination in medical school, where students and educators are asking very valid questions as to the role of these “competing” technologies.

I recently participated in a symposium at the Canadian Cardiovasular Congress recently exploring this very topic. Together with my colleague Dr. Amer Johri, as well as Dr. Sharon Mulvagh from Dalhousie, Dr. Rob Arntfield from Western University, and our former Echocardiography Fellow (now staff Cardiologist at McGill) Dr. Hanane Benbarkat, we explored current and further applications of HHU and POCUS, all centred on its fundamental impact on patient care.

Dr. Johri has been active in the development of guidelines for its application in medical education (Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography 2018;31:749), and has been working with Dr. Steven Pang of our department of Biomedical and Molecular Science to introduce the technology within our curriculum.

The session was, as you might imagine, not without controversy. However, I believe the discussion ultimately centred on the only truly relevant issue:  how we can utilize emerging technology to better serve the needs of patients. The concluding messages I provided our audience at that symposium are:

  • HHU and POCUS are excellent examples of disruptive innovation
  • They challenge our conventional approaches, but have considerable potential to bring added value to both the clinical setting and educational process
  • They are here to stay – but how, and who will be guiding their use is not yet determined
  • They have the potential to evolve from disruptive to sustaining innovations
  • The key consideration in assessing value should be the impact on patient care
  • Based on work carried out by Dr. Benbarkat during her fellowship at KHSC and hopefully extended to further collaborative studies with other centres, integrated utilization of POCUS by hospital-based Echo Labs is feasible and beneficial.

I’ll conclude with the words of Mr. Christensen who has given much thought to what causes organizations to fail in the face of disruptive innovation. In his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” he provides a rather disturbing paradox:

“in the case of well managed firms…good management was the most powerful reason they failed to stay atop their industries.”

“widely accepted principles of good management are, in fact, only situationally appropriate.”

In other words, it was, at least in part, a failure to deviate from previously successful practices that prevented well-established firms from engaging disruptive innovations, ultimately to their detriment. Such innovations challenge us to step away from what we consider to be the “tried and true” methods and approaches we have come to rely upon. They will always entail an element of risk and uncertainty, and therefore require what might be termed a leap of faith. In the medical world, that leap is only justified by a considered, clear potential to improve patient outcome. All other considerations must take a back seat.

 

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Well trained and committed clinicians can indeed succeed in the research world. Celebrating the accomplishments of two Queen’s Grads

Most organizations we join in the course of our professional careers are a natural consequence or requirement of what we do. There are others that carry some degree of prestige or special recognition that we may choose to apply to with the hope of being selected. A few organizations – very few indeed – come looking for special people. These are called “Honorific” societies, because they seek and recognize individuals whose lifetime work merits special recognition.

The Royal Society of Canada is such an organization. According to its website:

The RSC is the recognized pre-eminent body of independent scholars, researchers and creative people in Canada whose Fellows comprise a collegium that can provide intellectual leadership for the betterment of Canada and the world.

RSC Fellows are men and women from all branches of learning who have made remarkable contributions in the arts, the humanities and the sciences, as well as in Canadian public life.

 

In the United States, the National Academy of Medicine is another such organization. It describes it’s goals as follows:

  • An independent, evidence-based scientific advisor. To carry out our work, we harness the talents and expertise of accomplished, thoughtful volunteers and undertake meticulous processes to avoid and balance bias. Our foundational goal is to be the most reliable source for credible scientific and policy advice on matters concerning human health.
  • A national academy with global scope. Although the National Academies were originally created to advise the U.S. government and advance the well-being of the U.S. population, our mandate is now much broader. The NAM includes members from across the globe and partners with organizations worldwide to address challenges that affect us all.
  • Committed to catalyzing action and achieving impact. We identify and generate momentum around critical issues in health; marshal diverse expertise to build evidence-based solutions; inspire action through collaboration and public engagement; and foster the next generation of leaders and innovators.
  • Collaborative and interdisciplinary. In partnership with the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and other stakeholders, the NAM draws on expertise across disciplines and domains to advance science, medicine, technology, and health.
  • An honorific society for exceptional leaders. The NAM has more than 2,000 members elected by their peers in recognition of outstanding achievement. Through a commitment to volunteer service, NAM members help guide the work and advance the mission of the NAM and the National Academies.

 

Recently, two graduates of our medical school have been named to these societies. Dr. Stephen Archer is a friend and classmate from Meds 81.  I’ll again quote from the citation provided by the RSC in announcing his appointment:

 

 

Stephen Archer is Professor and Head of Medicine at Queen’s University and a world renowned cardiologist and leader in several research fields, including oxygen sensing, vascular biology, and the experimental therapeutics of pulmonary hypertension and, more recently, cancer. He has made numerous discoveries that can undisputedly be considered firsts, particularly in regard to defining the roles of mitochondrial fission/fusion and metabolism in oxygen-sensing and cell proliferation.

 

 

 

Dr. Azad Bonni is a Meds 86 grad and well-remembered by many current faculty. He also has the distinction of being the younger brother of my colleague Dr. Hoshiar Abdollah. Again, I quote from a announcement provided by his current school:

Bonni is the Edison Professor and head of the Department of Neuorsciences at Washington University School of Medicine and director of the university’s McDonnell Center for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology. An international leader in molecular neuroscience, Bonni has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how the brain is built at the level of individual connections between nerve cells, and how deregulation of those mechanisms contributes to neurological diseases. His group has discovered fundamental signaling networks within nerve cells that program neural circuit assembly and function in the developing brain. Using brain development as a guide, the Bonni laboratory also has provided novel insights into neurological disorders including neurodevelopmental disorders of cognition such as intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorders, brain tumors and neurodegenerative diseases.

 

 

Neither Archer nor Bonni acquired their research expertise while in medical school. However, I believe both would agree that their ability to formulate important and relevant research themes and the commitment required to pursue those issues in a scientifically rigourous fashion was rooted in their understanding and personal involvement in clinical medicine and likely fostered by exposure to people and situations they encountered as medical students.

The role of research in undergraduate medical education has always been controversial. In an increasingly packed undergraduate curriculum, it is often sacrificed in favour of the many therapeutic applications and competency objectives medical schools are expected to provide. In fact, many current curricular frameworks have chosen to exclude it completely.

At Queen’s, we made the deliberate decision to include it in our list of essential EPAs, our only departure and addition to the nationally accepted list. We include research involvement as a core component of our curriculum (the Critical Enquiry), provide opportunities for summer research involvement, and integrate aspects of translational research into our teaching in various courses.

We do so not with the expectation that every student will become an independent researcher, but because we believe understanding research methodology makes us all better “consumers” of new information and that these early experiences may be formative and awaken a passion for research in those who had not previously imagined it either within their reach or as component of their career.

Congratulations to Drs. Archer and Bonni, and thanks for affirming that solidly trained and committed clinicians can, indeed, achieve great things in the research world.

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