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$18M gift for Institute of Public Health

Allan Markin (at far left in picture), chairman of Canadian Natural Resources and a longtime University of Calgary benefactor, is giving the University $18 million to establish an Institute for Public Health. It is the single largest donation from an individual the University has received in its 38-year history.

The U of C’s president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Harvey Weingarten (at right in picture), recently announced Markin’s gift at the university’s annual report to the community, held at the Archie Boyce Theatre, Calgary Stampede Round-up Centre.

“The Institute for Public Health will be distinctive in Canada for its focus on health promotion and disease prevention,” Dr. Weingarten said. “Dr. Markin’s gift to the university is one that will ultimately benefit the entire Calgary community and beyond. We applaud his vision and embrace this opportunity to build on the university’s success as a leader in the area of health and wellness.”

Population health has emerged as a critical trend, as healthcare systems look for new strategies to promote wellness before treatment becomes necessary. Six research chairs will initially form the backbone of the Institute. It is anticipated the institute will grow to include dozens of scholars across the disciplines who will collaborate in finding solutions to our most pressing public health issues.

Ultimately, achieving a critical mass of public health researchers could allow the university to offer advanced degrees in this area, something no other university in Canada currently offers.

Dr. Ron Zernicke, the U of C’s dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology, will assume the role of Special Advisor to the President on Health and Wellness, and lead the consultations to determine the focus and structure of the Institute.

Dr. Penny Hawe, who holds the Markin Chair in Health and Society in the Faculty of Medicine, will come under the institute’s umbrella as the first of its six chairs.

“Population health is about switching the focus of inquiry from individuals to populations,” Hawe says. “Medical researchers typically investigate disease by narrowing in on organs or cells, but population health researchers try to understand health by going in the opposite direction, by making the object of analysis bigger and bigger.”

That means, for example, that public health researchers seek to understand why rates for a particular disease might be higher in a given population, and what strategies can be developed to reduce or prevent it. What impact do issues such as housing, schools or friendship have on our overall health? What are the social factors that keep seniors healthier longer? The focus of the research is broad and can touch on many issues people currently don’t think of as being about health.

In addition to the Chair in Health and Society, Markin has established several other U of C health-related initiatives, including the Undergraduate Student Research Program in Bone and Joint Health, research fellowships in Sport Medicine, and several undergraduate bursaries. He also helped establish the Markin Flanagan Distinguished Writers Programme. All told, he has given the university well over $22 million. He received an honorary doctor of laws from the University in 1998.