Dr. James Wilson is our 2019 James H. Graham Award of Merit recipient
40 years of embracing — and shaping — change in medical education, clinical practice
James Wilson, MD, FRCSC, understands why his father was concerned when he cautioned him, back in the early 1970s, about pursuing a career in medicine. A general physician-surgeon in Port Colborne, Ont., his father was uneasy with the degree of change he had seen in health care and worried about where the profession was heading. For example, the elder Dr. Wilson had witnessed the controversial introduction of Medicare in 1968 and was skeptical about how it altered the physician-patient relationship. Eventually, he came to embrace the benefits.
“He no longer had to accept chickens, potatoes and cabbage rolls in lieu of payment to settle accounts,” Dr. Wilson wrote of his father in a 2015 article for The Canadian Journal of Urology’s “Legends in Urology” series, illustrating just how much the practise of medicine has evolved in one generation.
It was 35 years later that Dr. Wilson’s own son asked him about a career in medicine. Dr. Wilson found he was able to give much more positive advice.
He, too, had seen massive change in health care, but was considerably more comfortable with it than his father had been — and significantly more optimistic about the profession’s future.
“I had the chance, during my time, to realize that there are always better ways of doing things and there will always be change; but the unchanging fundamental which makes the practise of medicine so rewarding are the patients who come to us seeking help,” he said during a recent interview.
Being the change
Dr. Wilson knows a great deal about the transformation of medical education and clinical practice in Canada since the 1970s. In Urology, he is among the architects of that change. During his 35-year career at Queen’s University and the Kingston General Hospital, he made significant contributions to medical education and clinical practice in Canada.
Much of Dr. Wilson’s impact and influence in medical education stems from his numerous roles with the Royal College, for which he is being honoured as the 2019 recipient of the James H. Graham Award of Merit.
Service to the Royal College
Dr. Wilson served on many committees of the Royal College. These include chairing the Specialty Education Committee and the Urology Specialty Committee from 2002 to 2006, and the Committee of Specialties from 2009 to 2012.
His service to the Royal College provided a change from clinical medicine and contributed to “physician wellness,” he said.
“We all need variety. It was also a sense of giving back. I received much more than I contributed because of the experiences I had and meeting some extraordinary volunteers, people who are leaders in medicine in Canada.”
Richard Reznick, MD, FRCSC, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s, said there would be few in the history of the Royal College who have dedicated more to the organization than Dr. Wilson.
“In fact, he and I jokingly remark that we often see each other more in Ottawa than we do in Kingston,” he said.
Dr. Wilson also volunteered as an onsite surveyor for eight Canadian universities and served as a Member of Council for more than seven years.
“I think everyone around the Council table in the last decade has thought of Jim as a respected voice and someone who was always available when one was in need of wise counsel,” Dr. Reznick added.
Contributions to Ontario and Kingston
Dr. Wilson has also served his home province through roles with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and the Ministry of Health, including chairing the ministry’s Re-entry Working Group from 1997 to 2008 and serving on the Postgraduate Education Subcommittee for five years.
He made time for volunteer service to Kingston during his career as chair of Kingston Hospice, president of the Kingston Symphony Association and as an active member of St. George’s Cathedral Parish.
“Jim did all this while being a very dedicated teacher here at Queen’s, providing excellent urological services for our community and producing substantial scholarly work in his own right,” said Dr. Reznick.
Looking back, thinking ahead
Reflecting on the changes in medical education in Canada over the past 40 years, Dr. Wilson is perhaps most impressed with the diversity in today’s medical schools.
“It’s quite remarkable,” he said. “It’s much more reflective of the Canadian reality than we used to be.”
Dr. Wilson notes, however, that his own specialty has some catching up to do in gender balance. “Forty per cent of our residents are women now in our program. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.”
An area where diversity is lacking, he said, is in where physicians choose to practise in Canada.
“I see the draw to the city, to urban areas, and I sometimes get concerned that our selection processes are sometimes restrictive for people coming from small rural communities in this country. I think all the medical schools have a responsibility to prepare doctors for the whole country, not just urban Canada.”
In terms of ongoing change in medical education in Canada, Dr. Wilson says, “we’re in good hands.” But he stresses the importance of retaining the clinician-instructor model.
“Medicine is one of the few professions that still have a significant experiential component. Medical students are taught by practising clinicians. And we have to retain the role of the good clinician in the medical education process.”
Dr. Wilson said he is humbled to be honoured with the Dr. James H. Graham Award of Merit, especially in light of the list of previous recipients.
“I was really taken aback; to think that here I am in the same group as the previous winners of this award.”