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HEALTH CONNECTION

Professor brings med school to the masses

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun


He hosts a TV health call-in program on Citytv. He edits Ontario government's health Web site for the public, www.HealthyOntario.com. He's a practicing family doctor, a professor and a researcher at the University of Toronto.

And those are just a few of the positions Dr. Michael Evans holds.
Dr. Michael Evans, director of the University of Toronto's series of health courses called Mini Med School, says his goal is to empower people to make informed decisions about their health.


And now, Evans has added a new gig to his repertoire, directing an increasingly popular program at U of T Toronto called Mini Med School. Open to the public and geared towards students of all ages, this six-part lecture series teaches us how our bodies work.

"This idea has been done in the States many times," Evans explains.

"Now other universities in Canada are getting into it. The basic concept is to get the best communicators in the department to tell people everything they need to know about depression, Alzheimer's, arthritis or other subjects in 45 minutes."

This, combined with skits, call-in show style Q & A sessions, tours through the university's anatomy museum and interactive sessions with medical students, aims to make each of the two-hour evening sessions both informative and entertaining.

Evans came to medical education in an unconventional way.

While most doctors take their undergraduate degree in pre-med, Evans studied English Literature at McGill University.

In the next five years he would travel through Southeast Asia and work as a carpenter, driller and environmental entrepreneur.

He says that it was while he was in Asia that he realized his future was working in health care.

In addition to climbing the Himalayan Mountains and living in a monastery, in 1987 Evans worked for Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

"I worked with the clients making sure their cuts were clean, making sure they were fed well. They have a leprosarium there that the brothers run. It's a very simple approach giving people the basics: cleanliness and good food and social interaction."

He even met the famed Mother Teresa herself.

"It was such a brief encounter. All I remember is she had a stronger handshake than me even though she was half my size," he laughs.

With his colourful and non-traditional background, Evans applied to medical school at McMaster, one of the only universities that will accept applicants who haven't taken Pre-Med. From then on, his life took a different course.

Today, one of his passions is to empower people with the information they need to make informed decisions about their health. The response to the Mini Med School has been overwhelmingly positive, with 95% of "graduates" saying they'd enrol in future courses.

"There's lots of health information out there ... but there's an absence of quality information. People want information they can trust," he says.

The program was launched in 2002, and Evans and the other professors are doing the work on a volunteer basis in order to keep the price down. Students pay $160 (or $105 for seniors) for the six-part lecture series, and so far, more than 1,000 have taken the courses.

"Its so much fun," he says.

"The people are great and they enjoy it. Now we're planning a Mini Med School for parents with sick kids. We're trying to do one on infectious diseases. It does take up a lot of my time but I really enjoy creating programs that are so useful for people," he says.

For registration information on the fall (Oct. 2 to Nov. 6) or spring (Feb. 19 to April 8, 2004) sessions, visit the Web site, www.mini-med.utoronto.ca or call 416-946-8389. All sessions take place Thursday evenings at U of T's downtown St. George campus.

(Susan Poizner (susan.poizner@sympatico.ca) is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)



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