Meet the PSI President – Q&A with Dr. Robin Walker

As an expert in pediatric health and development and with numerous leadership roles within the medical community, PSI is honoured that Dr. Robin Walker is now our newly appointed PSI president.

About Dr. Robin Walker

Dr. Walker began his professional practice in 1977, beginning at The Moncton Hospital as a Consultant Neonatologist.

Since then, he continued his academic and clinical work in paediatrics and neonatology at several institutions in Canada. His previous positions include Vice-President Medicine at the IWK Health Centre and Integrated Vice President, Medical Affairs & Medical Education at St. Joseph’s Health Care London & London Health Sciences Centre.

His contributions in paediatrics and advocacy for the health needs of children and youth span beyond his daily work. He is a former president of the Canadian Paediatric Society and former Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Education.

He has received several awards for his work, including the Commemorative Medal for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Paediatric Academic Leadership Clinician Practitioner Award from the Paediatric Chairs of Canada (PCC), and Life Membership in the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Currently, Dr. Walker is a Professor of Paediatrics at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), Society for Pediatric Research, College of Reviewers (Canada), and the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders.

With over 200 peer reviewed publications, as well as 250 invited presentations to his name, Dr. Walker is an outstanding leader in the field of paediatrics and neonatology.

Questions & Answers:

Could you use 3 words to describe how you feel about your new role as the PSI President?

 

Humbled, honoured, inspired

What inspired you to pursue medicine and become a pediatrician?

I believed from an early age that medicine would be the way I could help people and their communities. I chose paediatrics much later when I realized that health and wellbeing throughout life depend so much on how that life starts and develops through childhood. I thought my greatest contribution might be to work towards ensuring everyone has a healthy start in life.

What are the most memorable moments from your career?

There are so many! I was only 17 when I entered medical school in the UK, so that was memorable. Moving to Canada after medical school to train in Halifax NS was a big decision. While in NB I was chosen to meet Prince Charles and Princess Diana on the Royal Yacht Britannia – hard to forget that! Then there was a fork in the road where I had the opportunity to enter politics and I chose instead to become an academic paediatrician at Queen’s University. Being elected as Canadian Paediatric Society President-Elect while working in Ottawa was certainly a highlight. My long research partnership with a brilliant engineer, Dr. Monique Frize, really launched my research career. And of course, my association with PSI, since 2001, has been a major source of pleasure and pride in the important work we do.

You have received numerous awards for your outstanding work and service. Can you tell us how you were able to achieve these milestones in your career?

It’s always wonderful to have one’s work recognized but far more important is the value of that work to people. My work in clinical medicine, education and research hasn’t really been high profile but it has been intensely rewarding because I get to see children growing up who may have had incredibly difficult starts in life or may still have deeply challenging conditions. When I have had leadership roles, I have always wanted to bring those values of caring for people – children, families, communities – into the decisions my teams have made. Most of us make only the tiniest contribution to making the world a better place but that’s what counts, because all those tiny contributions together really do change the world.

Can you tell us what motivated you to become involved with PSI Foundation, first as a committee member then as the president?

I became aware of PSI through my research into the use of augmented intelligence in decision-making in the newborn intensive care unit, research that was at the time seen by many granting agencies as ‘outside the box’ and difficult to support. I felt PSI as a granting agency shared important values with me. For example, PSI actively works to support areas that are less well funded and investigators that are new or developing. PSI is truly unique in Canada and our province’s clinical researchers are incredibly lucky it exists here.

COVID-19 has altered every aspect of daily life; this global pandemic has brought many challenges to the clinical research environment in Ontario. What are your thoughts about the role of PSI Foundation as a funding agency during challenging times?

PSI was very quick to respond to COVID, with a special call for proposals on COVID-19 right at the start of the pandemic and with ongoing actions to help researchers in Ontario continue their work and submit applications for support. Although we grant over $5 million annually, our team is quite small, so we can be nimble and react quickly when circumstances suddenly change. The pandemic will eventually end or maybe become a part of our daily lives, but future challenges may be bigger and longer – health issues related to climate change for example – and I am confident that PSI will continue to be ready to assist clinical research through those difficult times.

What are your goals for PSI as the president?

We have already made changes to how we operate as an organization to make life easier for our staff and keep operating costs down. I want PSI to become an even more important organization for supporting clinical researchers in the province, so I am launching a process to review our strategy for the next 3-5 years. This may result in changes to the areas or researchers we support, to how we function, to how we acquire and use resources and to our governance. We are also assessing how we meet values of inclusion, equity, and diversity and I would like PSI to be seen as a model organization in these respects. And finally, I hope to see far more people in Ontario recognizing just how valuable and important PSI is to the improvement of their health and the quality of the care they receive.

What do you think the future of PSI will look like?

I envisage PSI in a few years as a flagship organization in Ontario, widely recognized as one of the most important supports for clinical research in the province. I look forward to a time when PSI will be supported by broad ranging partnerships with our medical schools and a vibrant and growing community of practice among our former grantees. It is through all of them that PSI achieves its mission of improving the health of Ontarians and time we ensure that all Ontarians know that!

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