A Climate of Expectation

Promoting excellence throughout his career

“We needed to think about the community more.”

Dr. Arnold Naimark was born in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe trying to eke out a living in Winnipeg’s storied North End. They had little formal education, but raised their son in a special time and place and in a way that fostered achievement – a climate of expectation where people worked hard, opened businesses, and went to university against the odds.

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Well, not only did Dr. Naimark attend university. He eventually became the President. And like his parents and community did for him, he created a climate of expectation around medical research in Manitoba – an expectation that top people would be recruited, nurtured, and supported by a robust research infrastructure. It was the kind of infrastructure he was instrumental in creating at St. Boniface Hospital.

While serving as Dean of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Naimark was also on the Board of St. Boniface Hospital. “It became clear to me that St. Boniface, which was becoming an increasingly important academic centre and teaching hospital, was having a problem developing its research strength,” recalls Dr. Naimark. Part of the challenge, he says, was that there were no ongoing research programs that people could link to when recruited. They would stay for a couple of years and then move on.

And so, Dr. Naimark began to share his vision of the possibilities for St. Boniface Hospital with key leaders and colleagues. “If we were really going to build an academic campus here at St. Boniface, we needed to do something about creating a base of research so that when medical scientists were being recruited, they would see that there were scientists and technologists and research support staff already in place that they could link to and who could help them get started,” he says.

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A designated research facility was very much part of Dr. Naimark’s vision in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “One of the great attractions for any researcher is space, and so if one had new space developed that was modern and up-to-date and could provide the infrastructure for research, you’d have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining people,” he says.

Enthusiasm grew, the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation and its leaders got behind the idea, donors rallied, and by 1986 the facility now known as the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre opened its doors. But even before the building opened, Dr. Naimark – along with Dr. Henry Friesen (who succeeded Dr. Naimark as the university’s Chair of the Physiology Department) and Dr. John Foerster (who became the Hospital’s first Executive Director of Research) – started to think big. And recruit big.

Their first major move was to recruit legendary cardiologist Dr. Naranjan Dhalla and virtually his whole team. “First of all, it was a  clearly-defined group with a strong leader,” says Dr. Naimark. “Second, there was always the notion that St. Boniface would develop a special focus related to cardiovascular sciences.”

That was the base. From there, it became easier to attract and train other research leaders. For Dr. Naimark, one of the key advantages  of a hospital based research centre is the fact that researchers have access to clinicians and patients and the opportunity to advance their work in an actual healthcare setting. “There is a real advantage to proximity,” he adds because it helps to moves knowledge from the laboratory to application in practice – or, as Dr. Naimark and others like to say, “from bench to bedside.”

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By 1981, Dr. Naimark started his 15-year term as President of the University. He remained passionate about moving the research program forward at St. Boniface Hospital for his entire tenure.

Hi passion for the research program is matched by his keen interest in the advancement of a strong and equitable health care system. It’s an interest he developed early on in his career, working with the late Dr. Jack Hildes. Dr. Naimark promoted the creation of a Division of Community Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine with Dr. Hildes as its Director, to link outreach programs like the Northern Medical Unit that Hildes had founded, the newly created Department of Family Medicine based at St. Boniface and a reinvigorated Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

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The introduction of Medicare transformed medical care in Canada from a largely private model to a largely public one. “In order to deal with that transition we needed to think about health services in a way that included a broader community perspective,” says Dr. Naimark. “And so we recruited sociologists, demographers and economists, to help us determine how best to meet the needs of the community.

For Dr. Naimark, it all seems like a continuation of the climate of expectation in which he was raised. He expected systems to work, to adapt, and to be fair to all.
“It was a heady time to be involved with new developments and at, to be associated with people who shared a passion to do better, to innovate, and to try and break down barriers to progress”,  says Dr. Naimark.

It’s that same passion and desire to break down barriers that made Dr. Naimark a superb leader – one of the visionary leaders who helped put St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre on the map.

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