MacLean opts for left coast

Feb 09, 2002, Vol . 23, No. 3
By Carol Thorbes

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What would motivate an academic at the height of his career in health research to make a cross-Canada trek from a university with a highly acclaimed medical school to one with none?

For David MacLean, it was Simon Fraser University's "willingness to think broadly and boldly", despite having no medical school.

The former head of the department of community health and epidemiology (CH&E) at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University arrived at SFU in February. He is the first director of SFU's fledgling Institute for Health Research and Education (IHRE).

"Not having a medical school gives SFU a unique opportunity to profile and build multidisciplinary research which is often problematic for other universities due to the dominance of clinical or disease-related research at those institutions," explains Dr. MacLean. "There is a great deal of excellent health research at SFU," adds the population health expert. "IHRE provides a unique opportunity to develop a strong integrated research enterprise in population health that extends from the bench to the community."

Dr. MacLean's many years as a family physician and a medical health officer in Nova Scotia gave him insight into the need for population health research to successfully manage chronic diseases.

That insight led him to encourage and spearhead work involving many disciplines at CH&E.

"To improve the health of populations in this country without conducting multidisciplinary, multisector research and employing similarly structured intervention strategies and programs is probably impossible," says Dr. MacLean.

Projects such as Dr. MacLean's development of the first provincial population-based risk factor survey for heart disease in Canada helped turn CH&E into a nationally respected multidisciplinary research facility.

During a 10-year period under MacLean's stewardship, CH&E went from having three to 14 full-time faculty members and 25 cross-appointed faculty from other departments and faculties at Dalhousie. CH&E's $50,000 annual research budget increased to more than $3 million annually.

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