October 30, 2010

Dr. John Wade wins Judge George Award

Dr. John Wade, a long-time leader in Manitoba health care, a pioneer in the patient safety movement and the current Board Chair of the Winnipeg Health Region, has received the Judge J. M. George Memorial Award for 2010.

Dr. John Wade

Dr. John Wade

The award was presented to Wade during a ceremony at the Regional Health Authorities of Manitoba Conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, Oct. 28. The award is presented annually by the Regional Health Authorities of Manitoba to an individual who provides outstanding services in the health-care field in Manitoba, particularly those of a voluntary nature.

Wade's name has been synonymous with health care in Manitoba for nearly 30 years. In addition to chairing the Winnipeg Health Region Board, Wade as held a number of key leadership oppositions in health care, including, Manitoba Deputy Minister of Health and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. He is also credited with having helped to lay the foundation for the Manitoba Patient Safety Institute.  

Arlene Wilgosh, President & CEO of the Winnipeg Health Region, said Wade continues to make a tremendous contribution to the delivery of care in Manitoba and is a deserving recipient of the Judge George award. "Dr. Wade's decades of service to health care in and outside Manitoba as a clinician, volunteer, leader, administrator and scholar all make him an ideal recipient for the honour."

Marc Labossiere, Vice-Chair, of the Region's Board, agreed. "From serving on various provincial (inside and outside of Manitoba) and national committees, to the leading role he played in a variety of medical societies and national boards not to mention the ten years he has been a leading member of the Region's Board, John's dedication to his profession and to ensuring it serves the interest of its patients is obvious. The list of honourary lectures he has given across the continent, his visiting professorships and his many publications are a testament to his standing as a lifelong scholar and educator."

Dr. Brian Postl, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba and former President & CEO of the Winnipeg Health Region, echoed that sentiment in a letter supporting Wade's nomination for the award. "John has always been a leader," said Postl. "It was under his stewardship as Deputy Minister of Health that the health reform movement that eventually led to regionalization, began. And he was years, if not decades, ahead of the rest of the country when it came to the area of patient safety."

Wade, who received his education on a hockey scholarship, developed a sense of duty to patients soon after he graduated medical school. Upon returning to Manitoba from the United States in the 1970s, Wade reconnected with one of his mentors Dr. John 'Jack' Hildes. It was easy for Hildes to convince Wade that physicians had a responsibility not only to care for their patients, but also to provide that care in a way that benefitted the patient first, not the physician's schedule. And Hildes told him he knew of just such an opportunity. With private medicine moving out of the north, the "system" had taken to flying patients down to Winnipeg for medical care and surgery.

Wade immediately recognized this was not in the best interests of the patients and so jumped at the opportunity to volunteer to join his mentor and be one of the first physicians to travel up north to provide patient care. Surgeries were performed in Churchill, not Winnipeg, which for many patients meant their families were close by and could visit. That was the birth of the Northern Medical Unit (now named after Hildes), which Wade continued to participate in for many years afterwards and which continues to operate today.

That experience also had a profound impact on how Wade influenced the practice of medicine. He realized that Aboriginal patients were being treated by non-aboriginal physicians and felt that was an imbalance that needed to be corrected. And so, as the University of Manitoba's Dean of Medicine in 1982, Wade started up the Access Program, which was designed to encourage aboriginal students to go to medical school. It placed more emphasis on in-person interviews rather than just high marks and MCAT scores. The result? Today, more than 40 self-declared Aboriginal students have been trained as physicians; another 37 are currently in the system with 10 in the incoming class.

Early in his career, Wade became Chair of the Department of Anesthesia at the Faculty of Medicine. As William Pope, Registrar of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba, notes in his letter of support, Wade's department "became identified to the rest of Canada as the leading academic Anesthesia Department in this country."

Of particular interest, said Pope, is that Wade was the first academic Chair to insist that the Royal College of Physician and Surgeons of Canada allow female residents who became pregnant to take a leave of absence from their clinical training. "Prior to that, residents were not permitted to have such a leave of absence and might be dismissed from the program," Pope wrote. "Dr. Wade realized in the 1970's that this was an unacceptable procedure and caused the national body to change its approach. For this, women specialists in Canada will be forever grateful."

As Chair of the Health and Policy Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Wade again recognized that physicians should be doing more than just providing medical treatment. Under his leadership, in addition to having medical expertise, they were now required to be proficient in their communications skills, to be able to work well in teams, to advocate for their patients and manage their care. In addition to all this, they should also strive to be lifelong scholars. This is the standard that is now expected at the undergraduate, post-graduate levels and as they continue on with their education.

Perhaps one of the achievements of which he is most proud is in the area of patient safety. Wade was Deputy Minister of Health when a halt was put the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program at Health Sciences Centre's Children's Hospital in the early 1990s. That experience only increased his determination to be a key player in changing the system to be more patient centered; to encourage health care professionals to report any concerns they might have about how the system or their colleagues were operating; to learn from mistakes.

His interest in and work on this area - both professionally and as a volunteer board member - resulted in the establishment of both the Manitoba Patient Safety Institute as well as the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, both of which he was a founding member.

View Dr. John Wade's bio

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