Meeting the challenge of change

September 6, 2017 at 9:37 am


Every fall, when a new crop of eager learners arrives on the Bannatyne campus to begin studies in the health sciences, I flash back to my own student days.

I could never have imagined, when I was a medical student on this campus in the 1970s, the profound changes that would reshape the work of doctors, nurses, dentists, hygienists, pharmacists, therapists and researchers by 2017.

Nothing in the health sciences remains static. There will always be innovations that make conventional approaches and therapies obsolete. And there will always be emerging health threats that compel us to seek new solutions.

At the recent Inaugural Exercises for the Max Rady College of Medicine, speaker Dr. Trevor Young, a 1983 medicine alumnus who is now dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, urged the Class of 2021 to believe in future breakthroughs and cures that seem impossible today.

“Here in Manitoba, just think about the Ebola virus,” Young said. “Think about the discovery of a vaccine that was made not far from here, when you think of what might be possible in your careers.”

The question remains, though: How can any health-care professional keep up with the frantic pace of change and the tidal wave of new knowledge that is always surging toward us?

The answer is that it will always be a challenge, every day of your career. Never believe that you have mastered your field. Continually shed your old assumptions and make room for radical rethinking.

As I told the Class of 2021, “Learning is a lifelong experience.”

Réal Cloutier, interim president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, also spoke about the rapidly evolving health-care landscape. “We are challenged every day,” he said, “to innovate while responding to complex challenges, to question the status quo, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

We live in an era when science is often discredited and dismissed as “fake.” Part of our challenge is to speak up with integrity for evidence-based health science that protects patients.

I note with satisfaction that a 1990 medicine alumna from our university, Dr. Jen Gunter, is waging an online campaign to debunk pseudo-science, meriting coverage in publications like the Toronto Star and The New York Times.

The Winnipeg-born Gunter, a gynecologist in her 50s who lives in California, has fearlessly challenged the dubious “health” claims and products promoted by Goop, actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s profit-driven website.

When Gunter was a first-year medical student here, I’m sure she never dreamed that she would one day use a tool called Twitter to champion women’s health.

Keep your mind open so you can adapt and thrive. While many of the details we teach you this year will eventually become outdated, skills like critical thinking and effective communication will always equip you to navigate change.

What is your advice to new students in the health professions?