On Mentors and Memes

As we meander through life, there are inflection points – decisions and events that dramatically affect our future. It may take years to recognize them.  In 1993, I found out I’d been selected for a hospital pharmacy residency at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario. I didn’t realize it until years later, but this was one of those events. In London, I had the privilege to spend a year learning from Dr. Charles (Charlie) Bayliff, the residency coordinator. I’ve been reflecting on Charlie’s impact on my life over the past few days. On Sunday evening, Charlie passed away after a battle with cancer.  I’m proud to call Charlie a mentor and a huge influence on my career, and philosophy towards pharmacy practice.

Like most health professions, in-school training is only one component of a pharmacist’s education. Hospital pharmacy residencies are one-year elective programs that involve long hours and little pay, but the opportunity for unparalleled learning across a range of clinical specialties.  In hospitals where pharmacists are fully integrated into the health-care team, the expectations on residents are high.  Turning new grads into highly-functioning pharmacists is not an easy task – and it falls on the residency coordinator to make this happen. I was lucky to get all the support I needed from Charlie.

Charlie was a brilliant pharmacist but you probably wouldn’t realize it upon meeting him: he was far too modest and down-to-earth.  Medical staff had tremendous respect for Charlie, and his work in chest medicine, and it raised expectations for pharmacists (and pharmacy residents) throughout the hospital. He provided exceptional patient care, but his passion was teaching. He loved pharmacy residents, and gave up a huge amount of his own time to mentor me and hundreds of other residents over his 25 years at the hospital.

Charlie’s impact continues to resonate with me today.  He modeled what pharmacist practice could and should be, resetting my expectations for how pharmacists could positively impact on patient care. He showed me how to work alongside other health professionals and establish truly collaborative working relationships. His razor-sharp mind would dissect my case presentations, continually challenging my analysis, and making me question my assumptions and analysis. I had to know the evidence base better than anyone, because if I didn’t, Charlie would reach across his desk, dig through a pile of papers, and pull out a paper that I’d missed. Finally, Charlie showed me how clearly and effectively communicate with patients, other pharmacists, and other health professionals.

Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, suggested that individuals can pass on information in two ways. Genetics is one form. Dawkins proposed a second method, distinct from genetics, in a term he coined a meme:

Memes propagate themselves in the mean pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process, which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students.  … If you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, .. it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved into the common pool.

Charlie planted a meme in all of the pharmacists that had the privilege of working with him.  His legacy, philosophy, and teachings continue to live on in all those he mentored and inspired.

Today, the flags at London Health Sciences Centre are flying at half mast to mark Charlie’s passing. It’s a very public tribute to very modest man.

Thank you Charlie, for so selflessly giving your time to mentor pharmacists like me.

2 thoughts on “On Mentors and Memes

  1. Hi Scott,
    What a great tribute to Charles! I have just read it in the CPJ March/April 2020. I had the chance to speak to Charles a couple of times in my career and found the man to be a good person. Didn’t know him that much but he left you with the impression that he cared in what you saying and what you stood for.
    I’ve always been a skeptic (scientifically oriented) and authors like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawkins, etc.. have always interested me.
    Pharmacy and Medicine have too many Quackeries!!
    Thank you for the great work you are doing in Evidence-based pharmacy and medicine. I’ve kept your webpage in my favorites for references.
    Great job!
    Vincent J Basque, BSc,BEd,BPharm
    Pharmacy Manager
    Georges L Dumont Hospital

  2. Hi there,

    Here in my little box of an office on an outpatient chemotherapy ward I came to work as just another day as a Pharmacist. I was thinking about Charlie today. I think about him often, and some days just so much more than others. I came across your blog from more than a year ago now. I would say all those exact things of Charlie. Amazing that a life can influence so many of us irregardless of time and place. Thank you, thank you for sharing that message.

    Best regards,
    Clinical Pharmacist Hematology Oncology
    Capital District Health Authority
    QEII Health Sciences Centre
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

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