Pless urges all to bridge gaps

As the gap between clinical researchers, lab scientists and practicing physicians continues to widen, it’s more important than ever for the professions to work together, said Dr. Ivan Barry Pless.

Pless spoke to 371 graduates from the Faculty of Science, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Thursday, June 14 morning session of Western’s 299th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Science upon Pless in recognition of his leadership, innovation and academic contributions in the fields of community pediatrics and public health, and for advancing programs for the safety of children in Canada and around the world.

“For years I’ve been troubled by what appears to be a growing gap between lab scientists and clinical researchers. It’s like the two solitudes,” Pless said to a room full of future doctors, researchers and scientists.

Pless studied medicine at Western and graduated in 1958, but continued his studies after graduation, completing a BA in Arts and Science, by correspondence, in 1960. He completed his clinical fellowship and research training in pediatrics in Montreal and at the Hammersmith Hospital and the London School of Hygiene in London, England, as well as the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard in Boston.

His contributions in medicine have led to better understanding and better practices in the care of children with chronic illnesses and he introduced the concept of “the non-categorical approach” to the field, a method of clinical evaluation that leads the physician to focus on the effect that the chronic illness has on the child, rather than the specifics of the disorder.

One of Pless’ books, Health of Canadian Children: A CICH Profile, influenced public policy and played a role in putting child injury prevention on the map in Canada.

A leader in the genesis and growth of injury prevention in Canada, Pless founded the Canadian Hospitals Injury Research and Prevention Program, and established the peer-reviewed journal, Injury Prevention. He serves on the steering committee of the Injury Prevention Forum, organized by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Pless told the students the divide between lab scientists and clinical researchers – and even those who practice medicine and apply the fruits of the former’s labours in a doctor’s office – is unfavourable to all involved.

“The ‘hard-soft’ balance implies one is better or easier than the other, and too often, the two sides compete for resources, for recognition and promotion. I want to convince both sides that the relationship between them should not continue to be adversarial but instead, they need to work more closely.”

In her citation, Jane Rylett, chair of Physiology and Pharmacology at Western, said the list of Pless’ other contributions is impressive.

“During his career as a physician and academic, Dr. Pless did not waver in his community involvement. He served on the board of directors of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and was a member of the Coalition for Gun Control and International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention. He founded Safe Kids Canada and is a founder of the Canadian Institute of Child Health,” she said.

Pless has been a recipient of the International Distinguished Career Award from the American Public Health Association, and the Ross Award – The Canadian Paediatric Society’s highest honour.

Pless added graduates must also work to balance their professional lives.

“There’s more to life than your professional work. Find an enjoyable outside interest to balance the pain, and even the joy, of your day job. And do not get so wrapped up in your professional lives that your family ends up playing second fiddle,” he said.

Also during the ceremony, Anatomy and Cell Biology professor Dr. Tim Wilson was presented as the recipient of the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry graduate Carl Shen was presented with the Honourable G. Howard Ferguson Award that recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in academics, campus athletics and have made a great contribution to campus life.

The status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Physiology and Pharmacology professor Dr. Barry Tepperman.