October 19 – An important day for Discovery

As many will know, I have put a lot of emphasis on the need to grow research here at the College of Medicine and in particular, the kind of research that will have a direct impact on the health care of the people of Saskatchewan. I want to emphasize here I recognize and value the crucial (and in Canada almost exclusive) role that universities and medical schools have in discovery and bio-medical research.

My background is of course rooted in clinical care, and I have been frustrated many times by the inefficiencies and barriers to patient-centered care that excellent clinical and health services research may solve.

Furthermore, I am all too aware of the need to demonstrate to our funders the “value-proposition” of a College of Medicine.

So, this is why I have put so much effort into assisting our university, health system, government partners and the Health Quality Council in getting an application completed for the Saskatchewan Center for Patient Oriented Research (SCPOR).

However, emphasis on application alone as public policy is seriously flawed. Basic and applied sciences are on a continuum and are absolutely interdependent.

Since I am a semi-serious music collector (especially Maritime singer song-writers), I am fond of using the following example with my friends to explain the value of basic research. The mathematics that allowed the development of the music compact disc (now itself obsolete), were in fact developed nearly 100 years ago -because a mathematician was following his own curiosity.

If Sony had gone out looking for this, we may still be waiting for the CD.

An example closer to home is the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson, Crick and Wilkens over 60 years ago, and then the subsequent understanding of inheritance and protein production.

This was paralleled by the amazing curiosity-driven research and applied research in computer science that today allows us to do rapid genome sequencing. Modern life abounds with examples of how curiosity-driven research has enriched our communities and our lives.

So sometimes in my daydreams, I have imagined what I would do if I found a magic lamp somewhere in the Saskatchewan countryside…

One of my three wishes would be at least a quadrupling of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation’s budget. I am sure at least some of you have more interesting fantasy lives!!

However, I realize the principle funder of basic research is our federal government. So in that regard, I have questioned every federal candidate I could about his or her position on science, and the funding of basic research.

I must admit, despite the best efforts of some organizations like Research Canada, this discussion did not get the attention I had hoped.

Of the candidates I talked to however, there were some glimmers of hope. And of course I say this without endorsing any particular political perspective.

But I do hope October 19 is a good day for discovery research in Canada.




Intense week at the CoM

This past week has been a very intense week at the College of Medicine. I know the news at the start of the week was for many both surprising and concerning. I want to assure all that the CoM is moving forward and continues to vigorously pursue the goal of being the best “small medical school” in Canada producing excellence in medical, physical therapy and biomedical education, superb MD’s and PT’s for Saskatchewan communities and doing the research that improves care for Saskatchewan people.

I am very pleased that Brad Steeves, an experienced and highly regarded university administrator, has agreed to serve as Interim Chief Operating Officer at the CoM. Brad has worked at the CoM in the past and most recently has been the Director of Operations, Health Sciences and has been the leader with the Health Science Deans in building and operationalizing the Health Sciences Building. I am grateful to the deans and the staff at the Health Sciences Council in supporting the CoM at this time. I have to say I have been impressed at the way people at the U of S pull together to support each other.

It has been a very busy week. On Tuesday evening, I joined my colleagues from the Presidential Search Committee and our incoming president, Dr. Peter Stoicheff to celebrate the collaborative and collegial process that resulted in the successful selection of our new president. Peter has made it clear that he is highly supportive in seeing the College of Medicine succeed and I look forward to working closely with him.

Wednesday was an extremely busy day for me. In the morning I had presented to the University’s Board of Governors an update on the progress of the CoM. In the afternoon, I made a presentation to the Board of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. Building strong partnerships for the CoM is key to our success but as we transition to a provincial-wide One Faculty Model, it is essential that the organization representing our profession and the CoM work together. I am committed to that goal. As I pointed out to the board there are over 1400 doctors in Saskatchewan (and therefore over half SMA membership) affiliated with the CoM.

Late Wednesday afternoon I attended the farewell celebration for our outgoing interim president, Dr. Gordon Barnhart. Gordon came in at a time of great need at the University of Saskatchewan and did an incredible job of creating stability, calm and bringing us together as a community. Gordon had been tremendously supportive of the CoM as well as me, personally, as dean. I want to take this opportunity to extend our collective, profound appreciation for his great leadership.

Wednesday evening was quite exciting as I participated on a panel for a students and residents forum. I was joined by Dustin Duncan, Minister of Health; Greg Ottenbreit, Minister Responsible for Rural and Remote Health; Dan Florizone, CEO Saskatoon Health Region; Dr. Mark Brown, President SMA and Dr. Dennis Kendel, CEO Saskdocs. I was really impressed that all these individuals made themselves available for our students. This is truly one of the great benefits to working in Saskatchewan. I was even more impressed by the questions to this panel from our learners and the professionalism in which they interacted with the panel. While some questions were of direct interest to the learners such as residency positions, many of their concerns were actually advocacy for our patients which made me proud.

This week cemented for me the collaboration and teamwork that I have felt since joining the University of Saskatchewan. In a time where the CoM was facing a looming deadline and the task seemed unattainable, my team was joined by a team from our Central Admin led by Jeff Dumba, and worked tirelessly to achieve the goal. I am truly appreciative to all these folks who put aside their daily tasks and made the CoM a priority. I would like extend my heartfelt thanks to these people who I am extremely proud of and extremely grateful to.

Remember my door is always open and I am interested in your input.

I hope everyone has a restful long weekend and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.


Shaping Biomedical Sciences

A vibrant, innovative undergraduate Biomedical Sciences Program is critical for our College of Medicine.

Such a program must have the breadth and depth for graduating students to be well prepared to enter any health science professional program, pursue health/life science research endeavors, or enter the workforce.

We train much of the biomedical workforce outside the professions and our undergraduate programs feed our graduate programs. I believe, as do many of our peer universities, an innovative Biomedical Sciences Program can do all of that.

We have long-debated the importance of developing medical scientists versus creating the practitioners with the perfect bedside manner. Obviously we will always need to both.

In creating a new undergraduate biomedical sciences program within the CoM, we must also establish the best academic governance structure. This will benefit not only a new biomedical sciences program, but also the many other academic activities currently managed by our existing five Basic Science departments.

With these two initiatives, I hope we can also review and revamp research intensiveness in the Basic Science departments, critically evaluate their service teaching mandates across campus, as well as current service operations within the departments by pursuing solutions for improvement in all these academic mandates.

I have asked Jim Thornhill, Special Assistant to our College and to the Vice President Research Office (OVPR), to lead this initiative on my behalf.

Many of you will be familiar with Jim as he has served the college and university in a number of roles. He was a faculty member and physiology department head, and the Associate Dean Research before his secondment to the OVPR over the past five years.

I have asked Jim to work openly and transparently with me, the CoM staff, the two Biomedical Standing Committees (Programs and Governance) to review, and eventually decide upon the undergraduate biomedical program and governance structure.

Importantly, I want the committees to reach their ultimate plan with the input of university officials, faculty, current and past students from the existing programs, but also learn from other universities having similar life/biomedical science programs in Canada.

I have asked all concerned if it is possible to have the new Biomedical Sciences Program(s) have its first class enrolled for September, 2017 and managed within its new governance structure. What programs and structures will do the most to enhance our research enterprise in the new world of research clusters and inter-disciplinary health research?

Obviously much work is ahead!!

Our goals in this work are two-fold: focus on student success, and grow our research intensiveness.

With respect to research intensiveness, over the next five years I believe we should aim for: 25% increase in the number of peer reviewed grants; 25% increase in the number of peer reviewed papers; 10% increase in the number of external research networks formed; 10% increase in the number of patents issued; and 25-50% increase in the number of biomedical undergraduate students conducting research projects.

Speaking of students, in the coming five years, I believe we can achieve a 25-50% increase in undergraduate enrollment; 10-25% increase in acceptance of these students to medicine or other health professional colleges; and a 25% increase in the number of students applying to graduate programs.

To date, I am pleased to report student surveys of current and past graduates of existing Basic Science undergraduate programs will be conducted through the Register’s Office in September. As well, a site tour to three Canadian universities with similar biomedical Sciences programs was arranged for three representatives from our standing committees for mid-September. This data will be gathered and analyzed by Christmas so an initial draft of the new Biomedical Program can begin in the New Year.

Extensive consultation of the draft proposal will occur in the college and across campus in spring 2016 and summer of next year, with a revised draft sent to Academic Programs and Priority and Planning Committees of University Council in October, 2016.

Importantly, I meet with the Biomedical Governance Committee in September to begin discussions of possible governance structures for the effective management of the Biomedical Sciences Program of the future.

Of course, all of this work must happen within the larger university context. As we plan for our own future, we must remain sensitive to the bigger picture.

The U of S is moving to an activity-based funding model. All of our medical programs, and even our graduate programs, have a fixed capacity. As we works towards our new model, we must consider how we will grow our basic sciences faculty. Our own undergraduate programs will enable a way to grow our budget in the future university budget model.

Please extend your support and ideas to Jim and the committees as they continue this important work.