Dr. Janet E. McElhaney Memorial Award
Janet E. McElhaney, MD, September 29, 1954 – October 21, 2021
Dr. Janet McElhaney was an award-winning Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, a beloved member of the Health Sciences North medical staff, Scientific Director of the Health Sciences North Research Institute, and the Health Sciences North Volunteer Association Research Chair in Healthy Aging. Over the course of her career, Dr. McElhaney practiced clinical geriatrics in hospital settings and led research laboratories in inflammaging at the University of Alberta, the Eastern Virginia Medical School, the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and the University of British Columbia in addition to her work in Sudbury, Ontario. Her pioneering work in how the immune system changes as we age and the implications of those changes for how vaccines need to be modified to be effective for older adults was influential in both immunology and vaccinology on an international level.
Dr. McElhaney joined NOSM, HSNRI, and HSN in 2011. She developed and led several initiatives that continue to support HSN in becoming a more evidence-based senior-friendly hospital. She pioneered many programs to enrich inpatient and post-discharge experiences for frail seniors, through leveraging the power of strong collaborative practice teams.
Dr. McElhaney saw each geriatric patient as a valued individual deserving of quality care. She recognized that caring for the complex needs of older adults could be overwhelming and that it took teams of compassionate, committed, and hard-working people to provide the best care. Everyone she influenced: ward staff, patients, families, and the geriatric teams she built; knew they had a role to play and that she valued – indeed, depended on them. Her belief in the value that everyone brought to the care team was inspiring and motivating. Throughout her career, she leaned into the challenge of geriatric practice; through relentless clinical work, collaboration, and research, Dr. McElhaney developed simple and effective strategies to prevent frailty and maintain function in the face of life threatening and debilitating illness. She was a passionate program director and an encouraging mentor who led by example and openly shared her knowledge, wisdom, and experience. She was also keenly aware of the barriers to quality health care for special populations (for example, the older LGBTQ2S community, the homeless, and those with no families to support them) and underserviced communities (in particular Indigenous and Rural/Remote communities). Dr. McElhaney received many honours and awards throughout her career, from medical school through to the 2020 Jonas Salk Award for Lifetime Achievement in Disability Prevention. This award, given for her research into vaccine-preventable disability, was presented to her just a few months before her untimely death. From 2011 when she arrived in Sudbury, she published 70 papers, gave over 80 invited presentations – most of them International – and secured more than $10 million in research funding.
From the beginning of her career, Dr. McElhaney recognized the devastating health effects of socially constructed inequities and made it her mission to serve the most vulnerable in our society. The student who receives this award should show a willingness to confront the many challenges faced by older adults interacting with our health care system today. For example, this may include service to those who live in underprivileged areas, belong to marginalized communities, or have experienced abuse, isolation, trauma, or poverty. The student should also demonstrate a commitment to collaborative practice based on genuine curiosity and mutual respect.