A Q&A with Dr. Bernard Jasmin, new dean of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Bernard Jasmin has been named the permanent dean of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, having served as interim dean since July 2017. In his role, he is leading Canada’s only bilingual medical school and its more than 2500 learners, 2700 faculty members, and 500 staff.
Dr. Jasmin has spent his career as a biomedical researcher, maintaining an internationally recognized research program studying the physiopathology of various neuromuscular diseases. He has published more than 130 scientific articles and book chapters, mostly as senior investigator, has been invited to present his work at prestigious meetings and institutions around the world and has received several prizes and awards throughout his career. In his leadership roles, Dr. Jasmin has worked closely with all stakeholders from the University, Faculty, affiliated hospitals and research institutes, leading or assisting in the development of a number of flagship programs and initiatives in support of the educational and research missions of the Faculty of Medicine.
We sat down with Dr. Jasmin to learn more about the unique perspective he will bring to this position and his vision for the Faculty’s future.
Q: Congratulations on this appointment. How does it feel to take on the position in a longer-term capacity?
A: I feel incredibly humbled and privileged to be given this opportunity. The Faculty of Medicine is in great shape when it comes to both education and research. We are gaining national and international recognition according to various survey results and we regularly rank in at least the top 5 medical schools in Canada. Furthermore, we have outstanding learners, terrific staff and exceptional faculty members who are collaborative, collegial and committed. I am very proud to be a member of this team.
Q: How have your professional experiences prepared you for the role of dean of the Faculty of Medicine?
A: To begin with, I’ve always played a lot of team sports and have also consulted for national teams on aspects of nutrition and sport injury. I often describe myself as a “rassembleur.” To be successful leading a team, one has to actively build a sense of cohesion, strengthen morale, develop strategic directions and action items, and actively contribute to the team’s success. In many ways, guiding a large faculty like the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine is no different.
During my several years as chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, I saw first-hand the importance of teaching well for effective learning. I watched many students pass through on their way to achieving their own career goals, and also witnessed the value of mentorship when it came to helping them achieve their dreams.
As vice-dean of research at the Faculty, I contributed to building local, national and international partnerships. This kind of work requires that one be collegial, open‑minded, transparent, informed and equitable. I strongly believe these qualities are essential for establishing trust. Once trust exists, it becomes the foundation for successful and sustainable long‑term collaborations and partnerships.
I channelled this same philosophy into my role as vice-president, research at the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), where I connected with all faculties of medicine across Canada, facilitated collaborations and interactions, and worked toward the common goal of integrating all aspects of research, together with medical education, into health systems. As dean of a faculty of medicine, all of these same principles are at play.
Q: What guiding principles will you rely on during your time as dean?
A: An ideology that that I have developed during my years at the Faculty of Medicine is that we will always succeed if we strive for:
- Innovation (in education, research, and international and global health);
- Diversity, equity and inclusion;
- Engagement; and
- Accountability and transparency.
I think many will agree that the “IDEA” principle is a useful compass as we shape our strategies, be it at a personal, program or faculty level.
Q: You refer to yourself as a “system dean.” What do you mean by that?
A: A recent study of the emerging ‘system dean’ model explains the evolving role of deanship at medical schools. It defines the role as “function[ing] as a team player within a broader health system that determines the mission for the medical school and the related clinical enterprise.” The simple fact is that one must adapt to today’s culture of changing educational, medical and political landscapes; the dean’s role is no exception. There is a clear need for enhanced and system collaborations, active listening, empowering others and transparency.
Q: What is your long-term vision for the Faculty?
A: During my year as interim dean and despite the significant budget challenges, we never lost sight of our priorities and strategic directions. We worked hard with faculty members, staff and learners to inventory the Faculty’s present-day strengths and weaknesses, and to identify areas of opportunity. Now that we are equipped with this information, it’s time to work together and forge a path forward. Areas of focus will include:
- Building on current strengths while creating new ones. I would like to expand on all of our recent achievements in education and research as well as on the international and global health scene while concomitantly supporting the development of novel initiatives and academic programs. This will be done with a transparent and inclusive approach.
- Pushing the frontiers of medical innovation. The uOttawa Faculty of Medicine is well positioned to gain national leadership in a number of novel areas, including translational medicine and medical artificial intelligence. It is critical that as a faculty we allow ourselves to strive for medical and scientific excellence by thinking outside the box and, in some ways, challenging the way things have always been done.
- Collaboration and integration. This faculty leads the way in fostering a learning environment that encourages interactions across an incredibly varied population of learners. We need to continue building on this. At the same time, we must continue building on collaborations across our partner institutions to facilitate the production of top-tier work that is recognized here in Canada and around the world. Finally, it will be essential over the next few years to increase interactions with other uOttawa faculties in order to develop University-wide strategies in health education and research.
Q: You often say this is not your faculty, but our faculty. Why is this such an important message for you to convey to internal stakeholders?
A: Engagement, which is essentially one’s sense of belonging and feeling appreciated, is key to fostering and maintaining our pride. The Faculty is doing extremely well, and everyone should be tremendously proud of belonging to such a world-leading organization. It is important to me that all of our staff, faculty members and learners know they are greatly valued, and that everyone plays a key role in contributing to our success and shaping our future.
Q: What are three things about you that most faculty, staff and learners don’t know?
A: I bet very few people know that:
- I enjoy Formula One racing—the technology and prowess are at the limit of human capabilities. For example, the engineering, aerodynamics, software and team synchronization during pit stops have all led to innovation in other fields including in the pharmaceutical industry and even in hospitals’ intensive care and neonatal care units.
- I used to busk in Old Montreal on a competitive trampoline—I made good money over the warm summer months!
- Back in my younger days in school, I studied business administration in CEGEP. I wanted to become a stockbroker. Wall street was my goal! In the first semester, I signed up for a biology elective. I dropped out of that course after one class…
Q: You are in the habit of meeting students over a game of billiards. Is it poor form to beat one’s dean in a game of pool?
A: Of course it is! Beating your dean at anything is poor form… :)
Read our interview with Dr. Jasmin from July 2017.
 Perm J. 2017;21. pii: 16-069. doi: 10.7812/TPP/16-069.
The Evolution of the Medical School Deanship: From Patriarch to CEO to System Dean.
Schieffler DA1, Farrell PM2, Kahn MJ3, Culbertson RA4.