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Dr. Harvey Chochinov

Meet the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award for Academic Innovation

July 2, 2024 — 

Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov [MD/83, PhD/98] is the recipient of the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award for Academic Innovation. 

At a time when people are at their most vulnerable — at the end of their lives — Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov’s work has been there to help them feel comforted. He is one of the most prolific and respected researchers in supportive and palliative care in the world today, and his research-informed best practices are recognized globally for enhancing the psychological well-being and quality-of-life of patients with advanced disease. For all his compassionate, critical and globally renowned work as a pioneer in the field of the emotional dimensions of end-of-life care, Dr. Chochinov is being honoured by UM. 

“I chose to study at the University of Manitoba because Winnipeg was home. I did my undergraduate work here, and then entered the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. After finishing my psychiatry residency, I went on to complete my doctoral studies in the Faculty of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba,” says Dr. Chochinov. “Having been privileged to lecture at academic institutions around the world, I now feel the quality of education at the University of Manitoba is second to none. Our students receive extraordinary medical training, setting them up to pursue whatever goals they have in mind, wherever their professional pathway may take them.”  

Dr. Chochinov has long maintained a connection with UM, where he is currently a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, and has supervised students in the faculties of medicine, psychology, nursing and community health services for more than 30 years. He has also served as a global emissary for UM, delivering more than 500 invited lectures at prestigious institutions ranging from Harvard, Cornell and Johns Hopkins to Stanford and Oxford.  

One of Dr. Chochinov’s most ground-breaking achievements through his research was bringing dignity to patient care in tangible, practical ways. More specifically, Dr. Chochinov’s research has resulted in concrete methods of measuring dignity-related distress, effectively eliciting personhood in clinical practice, and founding Dignity Therapy, a narrative-based psychotherapy technique. Dignity Therapy has undergone 10 systematic reviews, with scores of international clinical trials and publications affirming its merits of mitigating distress and enhancing patient quality of life.  

“At the start of my research career, I learned that loss of dignity was the most frequent reason cited by physicians who had helped their patients end their lives, but nobody had every studied what dignity meant to patients,” says Dr. Chochinov. He and his team discovered that patients’ perceptions regarding how they are seen by their healthcare providers was the most significant predictor of sense of dignity. “This was an epiphany, which said good end of life care was not just about what you did with the patient or what you said to the patient, but fundamentally, was how you saw or appreciated your patient.” 

Dr. Chochinov has closely studied the patient experience in supportive and palliative care, in turn improving psychological well-being and quality of life while reducing suffering and enriching the care of those with advanced illnesses across the globe. As a Senior Scientist at the Paul Albrechtsen Research Institute CancerCare Manitoba, he has explored the experience of life-limiting cancer through his research, covering elements including depression, hopelessness, suffering, prognostic awareness, suicidality, desire for death, will-to-live, sense of burden to others, quality of life, dependency, spirituality, and existential distress. He has also researched the patient-healthcare professional relationship, such as: elements of effective communication; issues related to equity, diversity, inclusiveness; and core efficiencies of dignity conserving care.   

“A more recent area I’ve dug into is the idea of the platinum rule, which says do unto others as they would want done unto themselves,” says Dr. Chochinov. “The platinum rule acknowledges that our perception of patients may be skewed or bias. We might, for instance, make assumptions about someones suffering or quality of life, when that is really more about us and our narrow lived experience, and not about the actual patient.” 

As evidenced by the number of firsts he has achieved, Dr. Chochinov has been a trailblazer throughout his career. He was the first Canadian to complete a fellowship in psycho-oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. He then became the first psychiatrist to receive funding from the National Cancer Institute of Canada and later, the first awarded a Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care.  

Additionally, Dr. Chochnov’s book, Dignity Therapy: Final Words for Final Days (Oxford University Press) received the American Publisher’s Prose Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in Clinical Medicine. He also co-founded Canadian Virtual Hospice, the world’s largest web-based repository of information and support for people living with advanced illness, their family members, as well as clinicians, educators, and researchers.  

“What I’ve enjoyed about being an academic is the creativity of the process, the rigour that it affords and the opportunity to address large problems that are core to the human experience,” he says. “The thing that I’m aware of now more than ever is that research doesn’t fulfill its full potential if there isn’t uptake. I see the lecturing and teaching I do internationally as an important part of knowledge dissemination. I wouldn’t be where I am if not for the researchers who came before me. I’m so delighted there are now young people engaging with my work and discovering where the field of palliative care will go next.” 

For his work in psycho-oncology and palliative care, Dr. Chochinov has received countless honours. He has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He has Fellowships in the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology and the Arthur M Sutherland Award from the International Psycho-Oncology Society. 

Continuing his list of firsts, Dr. Chochinov is the only psychiatrist to receive the FNG Starr Award, described as the Victoria Cross of Canadian medicine, the O. Harold Warwick Prize, for significant advances in cancer control, and the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance Outstanding Research Award. This year, he will also receive the Distinguished Alumni Award for Academic Innovation. 

“It’s wonderful to be recognized by one’s colleagues and by a university that provided me educational opportunities, which have been the foundation for my entire career,” says Dr. Chochinov. “Oftentimes, the feedback one gets is from afar, and it’s gratifying to know that people here at home and at the University of Manitoba have taken notice. I don’t take what the university has given me for granted, and feel proud, honoured and humbled to be the recipient of this award.” 

The 2024 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration of Excellence presented by TD Insurance will be held September 19, during Homecoming 2024. Get your tickets now as the event is always a sell-out! 

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