Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Oct. 6, 2021
First UCalgary prof and first veterinarian ever elected president of Canadian Academy of Health Sciences
It’s no easy task to sum up the career of Dr. Jay Cross. It has a lot of moving parts.
He’s a veterinarian, a professor of molecular genetics in both the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) at the University of Calgary and the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), and the founding director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI). He’s also an accomplished interdisciplinary researcher, educator, innovator in animal and human health, and a fourth-generation rancher.
Now, Cross, DVM, PhD, is adding president-elect of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) to his arm-long list of credentials.
The CAHS was created by the federal government to bring together experts from the full spectrum of health sciences to work on health issues affecting Canadians. Cross is the first professor from UCalgary and the first-ever veterinarian to head the organization.
Why would a veterinarian be doing that?
“My career has largely been working across disciplines and promoting what we now call One Health approaches to health,” says Cross, a member of ACHRI.
“At times, people have been curious as to why a veterinarian would be doing that. Now more people are recognizing the importance of veterinary medicine in terms of not just animal health, but in terms of human health as well, whether that's from a food safety, water safety, environmental, or mental wellness standpoint. Veterinary medicine covers a broad range.”
“And up until two years ago, all the presidents had been MDs. It didn’t make sense when we have representatives from all of the health disciplines, including nursing, rehabilitation, social sciences including health economics that we should only have a president who was an MD.”
One of the few truly One Health organizations
Dr. Alastair Cribb, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the founding dean of UCVM, is thrilled with Cross’s appointment.
“The CAHS is one of the few truly One Health organizations in Canada and frankly in North America, and it’s great that we have a veterinarian who is going to be president,” says Cribb, a founding member of the CAHS.
"Jay is the perfect representative. He’s a veterinarian, he’s got a strong animal background, and he has a stellar reputation in the research field.
“And it’s great to have someone from UCVM step into that role because UCVM was founded with this sort of outcome in mind — integrating with human medicine and trying to increase the dialogue and the exchange between the veterinary world and the broader human health world.”
After being elected as a Fellow of the CAHS in 2010, Cross saw more and more untapped ways in which the academy could make a difference in influencing decision-makers around health systems.
“If you think about the current pandemic, it really is a One Health problem. COVID-19 has also pointed out the importance of paying attention to social sciences and humanities perspectives. If we're to understand why people are hesitant to become vaccinated or hesitant to take personal responsibility, those are social science questions. So, an academy that has a broad range of expertise is poised to help the country face complex issues.”
Fellows at CAHS work across disciplines to ‘do a deeper dive into specific health issues’ and lay out a series of recommendations in reports for decision-makers. “We’ve got expertise across a broad range of issues from multiple institutions, from all provinces, and those assessments are great pieces of work,” says Cross. “But they take a long time — many, many months to do.”
Sharing knowledge that can help now
Cross has been advocating for the CAHS to be nimbler in sharing its expertise in critical health issues. It’s launched a new Dialogue Series designed to do just that. In a series of online forums, experts are interviewed on different health issues. One featured Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for the province of B.C. Next up in the series, Cross is interviewing Dr. Jan Sargeant, the founding director of the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses at the University of Guelph.
“The events are advertised to Fellows, but they're open to anybody. I'd like us to continue to grow in that area and be increasingly relevant to Canadians. Part of it is increasing awareness about the academy, who we are, what we do.”
Jay Cross is a professor in both the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Medical Genetics at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.