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r. Robert Taylor is a hard man to praise.
When he was offered the Order of Canada in
2010, it took some gentle prodding from his
wife to convince him to accept it.
While honoured by the accolade, "I began to think of all the
people with whom I'd worked who deserved it so much more
than I did," he says.
And when the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Can-
ada offered him the 2012 Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award,
he again had to be persuaded he was deserving of the honour.
His colleagues need no such convincing.
"(Dr. Taylor) is an extraordinary example of the selfless dedica-
tion this award is meant to highlight," says Royal College CEO
Andrew Padmos in a news release.
The Teasdale-Corti Award recognizes physicians who go above
and beyond to provide health care and medical services world-
wide. It is hard to imagine a more fitting honour for Taylor,
who has devoted his life to equalizing access to health care
around the globe.
"We do believe that all people are created equal and it is the cir-
cumstances that make us unequal," he says. "And we can respond
to those circumstances. We are compelled to respond."
In 1971, the year after he graduated from medical school, Taylor
married Suzanne Barr and the couple went to work on a floating
clinic at the headwaters of the Amazon River in Bolivia.
"I was a new doctor, she was a relatively new nurse, we were
newlyweds," he says. "I wouldn't recommend doing that, but it
worked for us. It was a very meaningful time and we came back
committed to a career of working internationally."
They have since divided their time between Vancouver (Taylor is
a professor in the University of British Columbia's department
of surgery and director of the Branch for International Surgery)
and locales around the globe: India, Congo, Honduras, Zambia,
Haiti, Pakistan, Vietnam, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Côte d'Ivoire,
Malawi, Darfur -- staying for up to three years at a time.
They have not only tended to patients, but have worked in medi-
cal education, training future doctors and nurses and sharing
new skills with existing staff.
Taylor says development coupled with service is key. For example,
thousands die every year for lack of the simplest surgeries.
"One of the joys I have, has been teaching clinical officers and
rural GPs," he says. "We're putting basic surgical skills in the
hands of clinicians who would not otherwise have the chance to
learn these skills."
The Taylors' attitude toward international work was shaped early
on, wisdom learned by being completely surrounded by a differ-
ent language, a different culture.
"To realize we were dependent on them and to let ourselves be
dependent on them and learn from them produced in us a sense
of oneness with humanity," Taylor says. "At that point we real-
ized international work isn't that I design what I am going to do
and go to another country and do it for them. It was very much
that international work is something we can only do with humil-
ity and that we can only do together."
by Aloma Jardine
International work
is something we can
only do with humility
and that we can only
do together
Dr. Robert Taylor on a posting to Sri Lanka