Dean's Message

Dr.StrongRecently, I was walking through the streets of Oxford and came across a person wearing a T-shirt saying “I am more confused than a chameleon in a bowl of Skittles.” And this in the city that houses the number one ranked University world-wide.

If they are confused there, we’re in trouble.

But it set me off to thinking about how confusing it must be to look at the exciting myriad of changes happening at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and trying to keep track of our progress and achievements on the many topical issues of the day.

Much has been said about Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations this year and whether it is even appropriate to celebrate given the history of First Nations treatment. I’ve listened to many discussions on the issue, some informed, some not so informed, and some so heartfelt it hurts to listen.

For me the issue is not whether we celebrate or not – that is an individual’s decision. As a medical and dental school, the issue is how we became a nation in which the delivery of health care is predicated on being an Indigenous Canadian or not and, more critically, how do we address this in a meaningful way? How do we take our microcosm of the world and work to abolish health inequities? How do we get past our mistakes as a nation, get past the fear that we might make mistakes again, and move forward?

At Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, we’ve elected to start the long journey of understanding all of this, and work to develop sustainable curricula in partnership with our First Nations neighbours and colleagues that address the key calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and see meaningful change that will outlive our time.

This will not happen overnight. However, in the course of this upcoming year we will be deeply engaged in a process that has already begun to identify a course of action for our School.

At the same time, we have risen to the challenge of introducing competency based medical education in our residency training programs. However, we are not just changing our residency training, we are critically looking at the entire lifespan of a physician as one of continuous learning, of constant attainment of new competencies, and of striving during a career to gain a mastery in one’s chosen expertise.

No other school in Canada, and truly only a few in North America, have chosen to tackle it from the moment an individual enters medical school to the moment they leave practice. It means fundamentally rethinking who enters medical school and how we educate for a broad range of competencies.

We will need to nurture the next generation of clinician teachers and researchers who will deliver on our social contract as a school of medicine and dentistry. It also means becoming a national centre for continuing medical education that drives change in our concepts of what competency means across a career.

This past year, we introduced sweeping advances in Schulich Dentistry, which are designed to place it amongst the top 10 dental schools in North America. This year begins the hard work of designing the new clinical training program that will fundamentally shift the teaching paradigm within just a few short years. This shift to a system of intensive mentorship following a dental learner throughout their four years will mandate a fundamental redesign of the teaching program. To build on this, we will be addressing the needs of our current faculty while focusing on recruitment and building an infrastructure that will drive a new faculty model and enhance our graduate training programs.

We’re a dynamic collection of individuals striving to drive our School to great heights, innovating on many, many fronts...

By the end of this year, we will open a new level 2/3 viral research facility in the heart of Western’s campus. One of only three such centres in North America, this multi-million dollar research facility will become home to one of North America’s leading virology research centres with a focus on HIV/AIDS, at a time when the rates of HIV/AIDS are climbing again.

Our investment in research continues at a breath-taking pace. The past several years have seen the most aggressive period of recruitment of new researchers in the history of our School.

This recruitment has touched every aspect of how we deliver our core mandate of becoming a national and international leader. The excitement is palpable as each of these individuals carves out their niche within their areas of expertise while collectively we build a critical mass in areas of research that are going to optimize lifelong health. It is an exciting transformation of the School that is fuelled by, and is complementary to, an ambitious University plan to establish a wide range of endowed chairs to support these individuals, by strategic investments across the University in Western Research Chairs, and by success in supporting incredibly skilled new leaders across all aspects of our programs.

With intellectual renewal comes infrastructure renewal, and we are in the early discussion and planning stages for renovations and new construction of spaces that will support and house research and education facilities for the School. We look forward to sharing more details of these plans with you in the coming months.

So, are we chameleons living in a bowl of Skittles? Not at all. While it is indeed a bowl of Skittles that we live in right now – a rich, vibrant, multi-coloured mix of tremendous initiatives – we are not chameleons. We’re a dynamic collection of individuals striving to drive our School to great heights, innovating on many, many fronts, and carefully finding our place leading change in Canada.

Welcome to the Skittles bowl. It’s a wonderful place to be.