Health faculty unique in Canada

October 07, 2004, vol. 31, no. 3
By Stuart Colcleugh

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During his years as a family doctor and medical health officer in Nova Scotia, David MacLean concluded that Canada's healthcare system was disproportionately focused on the symptoms of public-health problems rather than their root causes.

“I felt like I was at the bottom of the cliff in an ambulance when people got thrown over and I was carting them away and yet they kept falling down,” says the affable epidemiologist and dean of SFU's new faculty of health sciences.

“I wanted to go to the top of the cliff and find out why they were falling over.” That goal led him to a highly acclaimed 10-year career in population health and disease prevention research as director of Dalhousie University's community health and epidemiology department.

And it brought him to SFU two years ago as inaugural director of the institute for health research and education (IHRE). The IHRE is now part of the budding health sciences faculty, which will begin accepting MSc students in September 2005.

The faculty's research and teaching programs will bridge social and natural science research with health-oriented inquiries involving 130 current faculty members from a number of disciplines.

MacLean says the new faculty will be unique among Canadian universities for its multidisciplinary approach and its focus on community health issues such as disease prevention, infectious disease, aging and chronic illness.

“This will be our niche, as we're not duplicating or competing with already existing resources. B.C. already has some of the best medical and health professional training facilities anywhere. We're pursuing population health from a broader context.”

MacLean summarizes his mandate for the faculty over the next five years in three words: “To grow it. To grow it in size, in infrastructure, in programs and certainly in research.” By that time, he envisions 40 to 50 additional faculty members (recruiting is well under way), dedicated health science facilities, as many as four educational programs involving linkages within and outside the university, and $15- to $16-million in research funding.

It will be a far cry from the bottom of the cliff where he began, he says. “But all my experience to date has prepared me for the job.”

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