By MYRON LOVE On Thursday, September 22, as part of its annual Homecoming Weekend, the University of Manitoba Alumni Association recognized, Dr. Arnold Naimark with its Lifetime Achievement Award for both his distinguished service as the university’s former president (1981-96) and as the former dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1971-81) – as well as his lifelong commitment to promoting health care research funding and education in Manitoba.
The gala evening attracted between 300 and 400 from across Canada. “It was very nice to be honoured in this way,” says Naimark. “It was especially meaningful that this award was from the Alumni Association, whose work is vitally important in building the reputation of our institution and encouraging support for our university’s programs and services.”
The award is also a culmination of Naimark’s more than 70-year relationship with the university and, in his 90th year, the member of the Order of Canada continues to play an active role in the life of the institution.
The connection with the University of Manitoba began for Naimark in 1950. Ironically, medicine was not his main interest and the idea of a life spent in administration was still in the future.
When he started university, Naimark was particularly interested in philosophy, an interest he shared with a fellow student, Leonard Peikoff. It was Dr. Sam Peikoff, Leonard’s father, who urged them to consider medicine as a “better career option than philosophy”.
“Leonard and I both applied for admission to the medical school, but in the end he decided to pursue a career in philosophy and became well known as a close associate of Ayn Rand.”
In 1953, Naimark, and three other University of Manitoba students who were part of the Canadian Armed Forces Canadian Officers Training Corps program were selected to spend a summer of training with the Canadian 25th Brigade attached to 11th armored division of the British Army of the Rhine
“It was a great time to be in Europe,” he recounts. “Apart from special events such as Queen Elizabeth’s coronation parade my eagerness to begin medical studies was intensified by opportunities I had to accompany a medical officer on his rounds at the British military hospital in Hanover, Germany.”
Back home, later that year, he began his medical studies just as the severe 1953 polio epidemic was nearing its peak. He was part of a group of medical students who participated in the care of polio patients at the King George Hospital (now part of Riverview) under the inspired leadership of Dr. Jack Hildes. “He was a fabulous teacher and mentor, ” Naimark says.
In the 1960s, he began his career as a respirologist engaged in teaching, clinical practice and research with appointments in the departments of Internal Medicine and Physiology. It was in the early 1970s, following his appointment as Dean of Medicine, that his time became almost fully devoted to administration and academic development in order to deal with important changes that had taken place in the scientific, social, and political environments.
“When I began my career I was part of a small number of staff who were located full-time at the medical school or the major teaching hospitals. A very large component of clinical teaching was done by physicians who spent some of their time at the medical or teaching hospitals, but who conducted a major part of their clinical work located in private offices and clinics
“With the introduction of Medicare pressures built to increase the enrolments in the health sciences to meet increased demand for health services personnel. This was accompanied by a shift, from hospitals to universities, of the responsibilities for overseeing the training of interns and residents in general practice and in specialties.
“I was finding that administrative demands required ever more of my time,” Naimark recalls. “I essentially had to give up clinical practice and cut back on laboratory research.”
As dean, according to the write-up in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (to which he was inducted in 2013), Naimark “revolutionized the medical programs offered at the University of Manitoba. Some of his many accomplishments include the rejuvenation of the department of physiology and the department of social and preventive medicine (later the department of community health sciences) as well as his role in the creation of the Northern Medical Unit. Over time, his innovative leadership reached across major national and international organizations concerned with medical education and research.”
Naimark also played an important role in the establishment of the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre and the launch of the Manitoba Health Research Council.
During his tenure as dean of the medical college, he notes that the medical school focused successfully on increasing the enrolment of women and Indigenous people..
After stepping down from the presidency of the university, he became the director of the Centre for the Advancement of Medicine (CAM) and the founding chairperson of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation. He was also the founding chairperson of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee.
Currently, he is still working part time – mostly from home during the pandemic – for the CAM helping to raise funds for scholarships, conferences and colloquia and contributing to the enrichment of the academic environment in Manitoba. “Although my academic appointment will end in the next year or two, I hope to stay engaged as a grateful alumnus of the medical school and university.”