Health care is Alan’s passion
Name: Alan Warner.
American University of Barbados School of Medicine; Union Graduate College-Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; University of Toronto; Harrison College.
Qualifications: Doctor of Medicine (currently pursuing); MSc in bioethics; BA in architecture design.
Occupation: medical student.
You are sitting in the audience and the master of ceremonies is about to introduce you. What would he say?
Alan Warner has a Master of Science in bioethics. He moved to Toronto ten years ago to pursue a dream of being an architect. This however changed to a more health care-directed dream.
After completing undergraduate studies, he worked as the bioethics research coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital
in Toronto, on a Genome Canada-funded grant, exploring the ethical considerations of novel cancer therapeutics. The research examined the concept of distributive justice in relation to drug costs for Canadians.
Alan has led the development of hospital policies, designed grant proposals and had direct involvement with clinical ethics. He consults and teaches on several clinical ethics topics, including resource allocation, and culture and translational genomics. More recently, he co-authored a book chapter for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that focuses on Ethical Considerations For Early Warning Systems For Climate Change.
He returned to Barbados last year to continue on his health care path as a medical doctor, where he is enrolled at the American University of Barbados School of Medicine.
What are you passionate about?
There are many things I am passionate about, but the most important ones are public health, preventive medicine, teaching, global health, athletics, family, music and scuba diving.
Do you have a philosophy you live by?
There is a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt which I have always cherished, as it has provided great guidance for me: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
In it I see the importance of perseverance and adapting to challenging situations by developing coping mechanisms for oneself. In summary, try not to accept adversity, but rise above it.
You have a love for the pool and swimming. When did your swimming journey begin?
My swimming journey began when I was four years old at the learn-to-swim pool at the Aquatic Centre here in Barbados.
To be honest, I remember my parents saying they needed to find an outlet for my energy.
I really enjoyed it from the start; and in two years, I was proficient enough to swim competitively in the deep pool. Aquatics will always remain a major aspect of my life.
You were a member of the Barbados Junior National Swimming Team in 2000 and 2002, and was the most outstanding swimmer in 2001. What meets did you represent Barbados at?
I was proud to be a member of the National Swimming Team in 2000 and 2002. I competed in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 4×50, 4×100 relays. Although the 50 free (the dive and dash) was my favourite, I also enjoyed the relays simply because of the excitement involved.
Both of the years I competed, it was at home, which made these events even more exciting with the home crowd.
Having completed secondary school, you pursued undergraduate studies, majoring in architectural design. Why this area?
At that point, this was a field I found most interesting as a career because I was quite creative and excelled at art-related subjects in school. During my undergraduate career I gained work experience at firms in Canada and in Barbados –– such as Larry Warren Architects –– which considerably helped my digital drafting skills.
If you could solve one global problem, what would it be?
This is a problem for a team. Access to basic health care is what I would be focused on.
You currently hold a Master’s in bioethics. What exactly is bioethics and what motivated the change in direction from architecture to health care?
Bioethics from a practical standpoint is the application of ethics to clinical medicine to provide guidance for many of the challenges in modern medical care. This is not to say that ethics has not existed in clinical medicine before.
Rather, bioethics started to emerge as a field after World War II to ensure research involving human participants was conducted in a much more humane and appropriate way. Today it has evolved to include helping clinicians and policy advisors make difficult decisions about resource allocation in chronic and acute care settings.
Clinical ethics will often help to elucidate what values would have been most important to terminally ill patients who are unable to speak for themselves, when it is not clear.
My transition from architecture to health care seems unusual to many. It was a mixture of a decreased demand, opportunity, networking and luck. I went into my undergraduate career with a primary focus in architecture, but I always had a dual interest in health care and its related research challenges, as I do have some close family members in medicine.
On returning to Barbados after my undergraduate studies, the opportunities were very slim –– which was also the case when searching for a start to my career. While waiting to hear back from several places I had applied to, I ran into a professor at the University of Toronto I had met through a friend and we started to discuss some of the issues in health care facing Canada that year.
We kept in contact, and in a few weeks, a research assistant position opened up in Toronto and I began volunteering, and eventually became a full-time staffer. From that point, I made my connections into the clinical world of medicine, having decided I needed to transition to this area of health care instead.
Policy development in health care is of great interest to you. What are some areas in our local health care policy you think need amending, need to evolve, or be introduced?
Many sectors have faced challenges in Barbados, and health care has not been immune. Some of the areas that need to evolve include:
1. Adequate reserves within the Blood Bank. I donate as often as I am allowed to, but there is frequent mention of shortages here, which are greatly felt when surgeries have to be performed or if there is a mass casualty. An incentive of some kind is needed
2. Improving and bolstering primary care.
3. Improved public awareness of the
4. Legislation and awareness in transplantation.
You have been privileged to speak numerous times on health care. Which event was your most memorable, and which topic do you favour?
I think my most memorable speaking engagement was at Union Internationale des Avocats in Dresden, Germany. It is a large multilingual international organization of lawyers. It brings together over 2,000 individual members and 200 bar, federation and association members, from more than 110 countries, from general to specialist lawyers. I really felt the impact I was making, because after every main speaking point, I had to pause to allow for translation in French and German. Here I was able to speak on the early findings of my research and make lasting networking connections.
In 2013, you were the winner of an All Bar None Scholarship to the prestigious One Young World Summit in Johannesburg. What was that experience like?
The One Young World Summit in Johannesburg was a truly unique experience. It took close to 20 hours to get to this summit, and while it was still hard to believe I was in Johannesburg, it definitely started to become
a reality once the opening ceremony got under way just after sundown on October 2, 2013.
I would be gladly waving and carrying my Barbados Flag with delegates from 189 other countries also carrying theirs. It has been said the only other event gathering with this many youths across the globe is the Olympics.
All flag bearers were preceded by a host of the some of the world’s most prominent leaders and voices, such as Kofi Anan and Muhammad Yunus. The show began with the music of the Soweto Gospel Choir filling the FNB Stadium where the 2010 FIFA World Cup was played. The music and dance were more powerful than I had ever experienced.
The conference, five days long, celebrated achievements of youth in the areas of human rights, sports and society, sustainable development, gender equality, youth unemployment, entrepreneurship, social business and public health. In summary, the key areas that remained with me were a call to world hunger alleviation, improved security and equity for nations around the world through increased tolerance with intercultural dialogue and finally not being afraid to be a threat to current unjust systems.
The final part of the conference would be a clear and succinct speech. Most of us weren’t sure who it would be, but by the time the announcer said: “No story of Nelson Mandela would be complete without her”, all were on their feet.
It was powerful to hear Winnie Mandela speak on the importance of youth driving social change and inspiring us to effect change by being gatekeepers of a better world. Everyone made a pledge on something they would be acting on once they left the conference and it was written down –– all pledges were tied together into a giant ball, reinforcing the point we are united in the pursuit for a better future.
You transitioned from competitive swimming to the sport of water polo. You served on both Junior and Senior National Team, and was also a member of the University of Toronto team. Is water polo still a part of your life, and what do you think is needed to boost the sport in Barbados?
I play water polo three times a week and assist with coaching the Junior Water Polo Team that we have here. Water polo
I would argue is part of my identity and has made me part of who I am today.
We have a lot of talented athletes on this small island. It is always refreshing to hear about a Bajan doing well in athletics at the regional and international stage. At this current stage, we are trying to encourage the growth of water polo on the island. Historically Barbados was a formidable force in water polo in the region and we want it back to that point. I think what can be done to raise the profile of the sport would be to see an earlier start of those interested –– from primary school.
This will give the sport the base it needs and foster greater competition between team members. We recently had our second invitational tournament where we had teams from Trinidad and New York, and it was a huge success. It will certainly not be the last tournament either.
I would encourage anyone to come out and watch and try it out, as it is a fun and exciting game. We are at the Aquatic Centre every weekday evening, except Friday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Tell us about your involvement in the High School Partnership Programme and Food, Environment And Development Programme, and whether you think they would be beneficial to students in our primary and secondary schools.
These two organizations I became involved with while pursuing graduate studies. In the former programme we went during the school year to as many secondary schools as possible and engaged them in activities that contributed to their local and global communities through tutorials about human health, rights and well-being.
The Food, Environment And Development Programme engaged secondary school students in activities to better their local and global communities in order to improve food security and health for all.
I certainly do think similar programmes would be beneficial to students in our primary and secondary schools. These areas are the primary origin of new and innovative ideas that will guide our country in the future, and their ideas and voices should be heard.
What do you love most about yourself?
I am dedicated to what I pursue, but I am willing to hear constructive feedback from any voice. I also am quite passionate about helping individuals to be better versions of themselves and achieve their goals.
Who has contributed to your success?
My family, especially my parents, have always been by my side and have greatly encouraged me to not settle for anything than my best. Whether it be emotional, financial or moral support, they have acted as a team to be the greatest role models in my life. Their impact cannot be fairly quantified or put into words.
I have many close friends especially from water polo who are like-minded and have always acted as pillars of support in anything I do, and therefore have contributed significantly to where I am today.
Finally, my immediate supervisor –– Dr Kerry Bowman –– at my previous job at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto was a major influence in shaping my career path from researcher to clinician; and for that I am grateful.
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