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2010 Friend of Pharmacy Award: Dr. Earle Waugh

Dr. Earle WaughDr. Earle Waugh
Centre for the Cross-Cultural Study of Health and Healing
U of A

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"What’s happening on the ground is what we should be training [pharmacists] for. Think of the patients they’re serving. We know that reading comprehension drops three grade levels within two years of being out of school. Now apply that to a highly diverse ethnic culture. Many of those individuals are seldom able to read well in English and have little understanding of drugs to begin with. How can they understand medical terms? How can they get proper health care? Pharmacists are the only people who can really handle this. They need to be the mediators. Who else will do it?”

Who else indeed? If it were possible for just one person to affect sweeping change in the education of health professionals, it could well be Earle Waugh. Dr. Waugh lives, breathes, and celebrates the importance of understanding culture in his role as Co-Director of the Centre for the Cross-Cultural Study of Health and Healing at the University of Alberta. He brings a wide vision to the job, honed from a life of curiousity, exploration, and discovery.

Dr. Waugh began his career with a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago. After teaching for four years in the U.S., he arrived at the University of Alberta in 1974. Today, his CV reveals not only his current titles of Emeritus Professor, Department of Religious Studies and Adjunct Professor, Department of Family Medicine, but that he has been the Chairman of the Canadian Studies Programme; Coordinator of Comparative Studies in Literature, Film and Religion; Acting Chair of Modern Languages and Comparative Studies; Director of the M.V. Dimic Research Institute; an adjunct professor in the Department of Music; and a prize-winning author, editor, and filmmaker. There seems to be nothing that Earle Waugh isn’t curious about.

What he’s passionate about though is culture and community. He has studied these elements through the lenses of religion and healthcare and inspires countless students with his storytelling, humanity, and view of the world as a community of people needing to care for and understand each other.

Cheryl Sadowski, UofA Associate Professor of Pharmacy, has been impressed by the lectures Dr. Waugh has given to her undergraduate students over the last five years. “He wants to ensure that those caring for others understand that humans have many perspectives and values, and these need to be recognized and respected.”

Students appreciate Dr. Waugh’s ability to address his topic with meaningful reverence, yet pepper his sessions with humour. “He expertly handles politically and socially charged topics and makes the experience fun and rewarding,” observes Cheryl.

Dr. Waugh has turned his research and passion into rich tools for health professionals. He focuses on the importance of cultural sensitivity in the health system and how a lack of understanding or attention to ethnic attitudes or traditions can create barriers. The questionnaire he adapted for pharmacy allows individuals to self-assess their own biases and beliefs which may impact patient care. He and his colleagues in Family Medicine also developed a cultural competence manual for health care professionals. The content is designed for all members of a health care team and includes material of considerable relevance to pharmacists.

In May, he will celebrate the release of this work, Cultural Competency Skills for Health Care Professionals: Community-based Modules (with eight videos) at the World Conference of Family Doctors in Cancun, Mexico where he has been asked to provide a lengthy workshop. Four of the films were nominated for 2009 Alberta Motion Picture Industry Awards in the “Best Educational” category.

Even after such a full and varied career, Earle’s curiosity shows no signs of slowing down. “Does pharmacists’ training match the sophistication of drug systems?” he asks. “Could pharmacists be the mediators between traditional cures and new drugs? As pharmacists move more into the realm of prescribing, will they remove themselves from the discussion with patients of what the medication is for? Let’s hope not.”

We’ll have to wait to find out the answers. In the meantime, we will celebrate the fact that pharmacy has such a supporter, educator, and inspiration. Earle Waugh is definitely a Friend of Pharmacy.

The Centre for the Cross-Cultural Study of Health and Healing is a nonprofit organization established at the university in 1984 to study multicultural health issues. The Centre staff and research associates, who are a multidisciplinary team of academics, health care professionals, graduate students, and community members, share a commitment to the analysis of health and healing from a pluralist perspective. For more information, see the Centre’s website at www.familymed.med.ualberta.ca/Home/AboutUs/Focus/CCCSHH/.