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Winnipeg doctor earns high honour

Chochinov a leader in care for the dying

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FIVE years ago, Manitoba's Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov hoped his idea -- to treat terminally ill patients with dignity -- would catch on.

The Canadian Medical Association announced Wednesday he's their top doctor for his compassionate work on how doctors can make terminally ill patients feel more comfortable.

His guide on dignity therapy helps dying patients find peace.

"The therapy showed me I am not the cancer. I am still here. I'm so grateful for that because I lost myself and it helped me remember who I am," one study on the work quoted a woman, 56, as saying.

Chochinov, the director of Manitoba's Palliative Care Research Unit, was named the recipient of the 2012 Frederic Newton Gisborne Starr Award, the CMA announced Wednesday.

The honour is the latest in a string of accolades and words of praise for the Winnipegger's pioneering work in palliative care. It recognizes Chochinov as a leading clinician and scholar in the study of dignity in the terminally ill.

The award is the CMA's highest honour. Past winners include Dr. Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, who discovered insulin.

"I don't consider myself to be in that category," Chochinov said, adding the award was "overwhelming and humbling."

He hadn't been aware he was in the running for the honour, so the announcement was a surprise.

"The most important thing is will the work eventually help people, and it appears to. That's lovely."

Chochinov is known for his kind manner and in his remarks Wednesday he said even with his success, he sees himself as "just doing my thing."

His most recent work -- Dignity Therapy: Final Words for Final Days -- was described by the Journal of the American Medical Association as inspiring and innovative.

Dignity therapy gives patients a chance to record the meaningful aspects of their lives and leave something behind that can benefit their loved ones in the future.

"I am delighted that Dr. Chochinov's seminal contributions over the past 20 years are being recognized by the highest award of the Canadian Medical Association," Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, CancerCare Manitoba's president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "His pioneering research in palliative care is helping to change within Canada and internationally clinical practice in this field."

Five years ago, Chochinov sat down with the Free Press to describe his methods and how he planned to teach other doctors about them.

Since it only takes a few minutes to be mindful of a patient's feelings and to get to know them, Chochinov said he was optimistic his dignity therapy would catch on.

"I think maybe health-care professionals are worried these things will divert them from their tasks or take a long time, but they don't," he said then.

Chochinov is the 46th winner of the honour, to be presented later this month at the CMA annual meeting in Yellowknife.

The CMA award recognizes doctors in the fields of science, fine arts or literature, as well as those who have served humanity with courage and endured great hardship to promote health or save lives. It also recognizes doctors whose body of work makes a difference in the quality of life of their communities or improves medical service in Canada.

Chochinov is the Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care and a past recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal and the Order of Manitoba.

He has also authored more than 150 publications and co-edits the Handbook of Psychiatry in Palliative Medicine, published by Oxford University Press, and the journal Palliative and Supportive Care, published by Cambridge University Press.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2012 A5

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