Canadian Mentors Who Made a Difference

When Canadian physician David Sackett (1936-2016) was in his last year of medical school and asked to provide treatment for various maladies of people entrusted to his care, he began to wonder about the evidence for the validity of such standard treatments that were long rooted in tradition and expert opinion. His questioning and curiosity led him to earn the title of “Father of Evidence- Based Medicine,.” He was the first person to conduct clinical trials examining the value of aspirin in preventing heart attacks and strokes; an approach started a movement that continues to gain momentum today in a broad spectrum from pediatrics to geriatrics. His approach has now become standard practice not only in medicine but has emerged as a trend in coaching and mentoring.

Dr. Sackett was a strong advocate for mentoring as one of the determinants of academic success as a clinician and scientist. He based his conclusions on his observations of the more than 300 young academics he mentored in the USA, Canada, and the U.K. One of the many he mentored said, “He showed us the importance of mentorship across disciplines. When I was in medical school, and he was at the pinnacle of his fame, he took on a group of us for an elective. I often think about this when I am trying to find time to give young physicians.”

Canadian Marnie Rice (1949-2016) was a mental health professional who began her career engaging in behaviour modification of inmates in one of Canada’s most notorious mental institutions that was known for its concrete cells and steel bars. It housed most dangerous psychopaths, serial murderers and pedophiles in Canada. Eventually she became the Director of Research and was determined to find ways to assess the risk of violence in her patients and devise practical treatments. It was a daunting task for her to remain positive given the violence demonstrated by her charges. At one point she was attacked by a psychotic patient during a group session. She said, “He grabbed me around the neck and tried to strangle me, but he was pretty weak. Everybody jumped up to help. It was nothing serious.”

Dr. Rice used her experience to develop a tool to solve this problem of attacks on staff. She learned that assaults on staff were often prompted by staff members’ attitudes toward their patients. She developed a guide to train staff members that was used by many other institutions. She eventually developed another tool to assess the risk of releasing psychopaths back into the community. Everyone who worked with her knew of her passion for mentoring new scientists. “She kept her door open and was happy to answer questions and give encouragement. Her nurturing prompted us to have high standards for scientific research and ethics,” said one of those she mentored.

Canadian Purdy Crawford (1932-2014) was a lawyer and executive who didn’t think of himself as a mentor. Mr. Crawford, a Canadian legal expert and business executive, left a legacy of many people he mentored. One of those he mentored became the first woman to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. At a time when women were struggling to gain access to the old boy’s club of legal firms in Toronto, Purdy Crawford hired her to work with him, and acted as an advocate or sponsor for her early career advancement. Gordon Pitts, who wrote a book about Mr. Crawford said that Crawford’s “greatest contribution to Canada was serving as a personal mentor for generations of young people who now form a who’s who of Canada’s most influential leaders,” including Canada’s Governor General David Johnston, and the CEO’s of some of Canada’s major corporations. Mr. Crawford’s obituary in the August 16 issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that “Deborah Alexander, executive vice-president and general counsel at Bank of Nova Scotia said Mr. Crawford was her most important mentor as a young lawyer, and that much of her personal success is attributable to him.”

These selections of great Canadian mentors have been excerpted from the Peer Resources’ Mentor Hall of Fame searchable database: (https://www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html).

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