Global leader: Canadian derm to head World Medical Association

November 10, 2008

Toronto - Canadian dermatologist Dana W. Hanson, M.D., has been elected the 2009-10 president of the World Medical Association (WMA), a France-based independent confederation of 94 national medical associations representing more than 8 million doctors worldwide.

Toronto

- Canadian dermatologist Dana W. Hanson, M.D., has been elected the 2009-10 president of the World Medical Association (WMA), a France-based independent confederation of 94 national medical associations representing more than 8 million doctors worldwide.

Though he has not been able to confirm the fact, Dr. Hanson believes he is the first dermatologist to be named president since the WMA was formed in 1947.

"Certainly, in recent memory, there has not been (a dermatologist)" heading the organization, he says.

Dr. Hanson was elected at the WMA’s annual General Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, in October. He will serve as president-elect until October 2009, then as president until October 2010.

He is the first Canadian to be elected WMA president. The last Canadian president, Arthur Peart, M.D., secretary general of the Canadian Medical Association, served in 1971 after he was appointed to the position.

The association was launched to ensure the independence of physicians and to work for the highest possible standards of ethical behavior and patient care, according to its Web site. It has established itself as an apolitical, authoritative voice, especially in the area of ethics.

Its most significant statement of principles is the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki, which spells out guidelines for biomedical research involving humans.

Other subjects covered by the WMA’s Declarations and Statements include guidance on human rights, the rights of patients, care of the sick and wounded in time of armed conflict, torture of prisoners, the use and misuse of drugs, land mines, family planning and pollution.

More recently, the association has taken up issues that are now affecting many countries’ health systems: the cost of healthcare and the pressures from rationing, or the limiting of healthcare spending, according to the WMA.


Achieving balance

Dr. Hanson, who has practiced medical dermatology in Fredericton, New Brunswick, since 1980, believes that achieving balance means contributing clinically to individual patients as well as ’ more universally ’ to organized medicine.

He served as president of the Canadian Medical Association in 2002-03. A highlight of his term was the CMA’s "100-Day Challenge," which helped spur government action following the release of the 2002 report of the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, which recommended significant reforms to the structure and operation of the country’s healthcare system.

In February 2003, Dr. Hanson marched up to Toronto’s Parliament Hill to present then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien with more than 11,000 postcards from physicians across Canada, who called for a comprehensive action plan for the renewal of Canada’s healthcare system, according to the CMA’s Web site.


Tackling global issues

Dr. Hanson says a number of pressing issues are on the WMA’s agenda, including the "poaching" of healthcare workers, the global resurgence of tuberculosis, and efforts to ensure the ethical treatment of humans who participate in medical research.

But two issues about which he feels particularly passionate are the right to healthcare and the effects of environmental change on human health.

"I feel strongly about the access to healthcare. … That’s a basic human right. And we as a profession have a duty to try and make that a reality for as many people as possible," he says.

Dr. Hanson says shortages of physicians and healthcare workers in even developed countries are impeding healthcare access.

"In continents such as Africa, where they significantly lack physicians and other healthcare workers, their (lack of) access is even more dire than ours, so there is an importance to the fact that we have to impress upon whomever it may be - government or nongovernment organizations, or others - that this is something that is a basic human right," he says.

He also says human health conditions are connected to environmental conditions. The WMA’s role in contributing to knowledge here is not to explain the causes for environmental change - or to debate whether change exists - but rather to lend expertise regarding what health changes may be occurring, how to prevent health problems, etc., he says.

"That’s why, when we talk about WMA advocacy, we talk about advocacy very truly for patients, about patients, and not just physicians," he says.


Why dermatology?

Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Dr. Hanson earned his medical degree from and completed internal medicine training at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He completed dermatology training at McGill University in Montreal and was named a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in dermatology.

He says he has always been interested in medical dermatology - a specialty that blends the science and art of medicine.

"In my personal practice, it is the balance between the science, which has been growing in leaps and bounds since I have been in practice, versus the clinical, human side of medicine that still is a very important aspect in dermatology today," he says.

"I’m not saying that other specialties in family practice do not do that; yet, on the other hand, dermatology tends to be a rather unique mix of those qualities that we see on a day-to-day basis," Dr. Hanson says. "That has served me very well (in) stepping forward to these larger issues, because many of these larger issues have the same kinds of components. They are not cut-and-dried; they are very complex and deal with the human (element)."


Giving back

Dr. Hanson is active in charity fundraising, is a supporter of the arts community and has served on many committees at his church. His personal interests include camping, bicycling, hiking, skiing, cooking, singing, the theater and the arts.

He and his wife, Phyllis, have four children and three grandchildren.

He encourages fellow physicians to bring their expertise in medicine and caring to the broader table.

"I have always felt that we as physicians have been given a very great privilege to practice medicine and have the confidence of patients," Dr. Hanson says. "Part of that means that we should give back to society in some way other than just through the practice of our skills. In my particular case, that was through organized medicine." DT