Nickerson appointed new dean of RFHS and MRCM

Student groups continue to advocate for splitting of dual role

Dr. Peter Nickerson has been appointed the new dean of both the Rady faculty of health sciences (RFHS) and dean of the Max Rady college of medicine (MRCM) for a five-year term beginning this September. Nickerson will take over from Dr. Brian Postl, who has held both positions since 2014.

Currently the vice-dean (research) at the RFHS, Dr. Nickerson previously worked as associate dean (research) at the MRCM. Nickerson’s research is widely acclaimed, and he has experience working outside the university with Canadian Blood Services, Transplant Manitoba and the Transplant Immunology Laboratory.

The dean of the RFHS and dean of medicine is responsible for managing each college under the health sciences umbrella including dentistry, medicine and nursing.

Doctor Diane Hiebert-Murphy was entrusted with hiring the new dean of the RFHS and MRCM.

Hiebert-Murphy, the current provost and vice-president (academic) at the U of M, said that Nickerson is the best candidate for the faculty right now. She noted his personal achievements, expertise in a variety of roles and commitment to an integrated faculty of health sciences that prioritizes diversity and inclusion as prime attributes that made him the best candidate for the dual position.

“He is very much aligned with the university’s strategic priority in that way,” Hiebert-Murphy said.

The U of M’s health-care faculties were integrated in 2014, and dean of medicine at the time Dr. Brian Postl was appointed as dean of the new RFHS.

When asked why the U of M decided to maintain a dual position for dean of health sciences and medicine, Hiebert-Murphy said that after consulting with current and former members of the faculty of health sciences, the feedback she received consistently recommended that the positions remain linked.

Although she does think that someone from a college other than medicine could lead the RFHS, Hiebert-Murphy believes that the current reality of the RFHS requires it to be led by someone from medicine. With so many resources in one college, she believes that to properly move forward as an integrated faculty there needs to be a leader that has an aligned vision for its development and future. An understanding of the connections between the RFHS, the MRCM and government institutions is also an asset.

“I think there is a rationale for why it makes sense for someone who’s the leader of the largest college to fill that role, who has those connections [with the government and the Department of Health] by virtue of being the dean of the College of Medicine,” she said.

A conjoined dean of health sciences and of a college is not a common occurrence in Canada.

The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities is a group of major Canadian universities that prioritize research. Together, these universities work to create the most ground-breaking research and education methods for Canadians.

The University of Manitoba is the only member to have a dean of health sciences also be head of a specific faculty college.

Hiebert-Murphy said this is the case because the university is a leader in the development of an integrated health sciences faculty.

She added that other institutions are attempting to integrate at same level as the U of M, but are not having as much success.

Despite this statement, according to the latest QS world university rankings, several U15 members with integrated faculties rank higher than the U of M in nursing, medicine, and pharmacy and pharmacology.

Hiebert-Murphy acknowledged that having someone be the dean of both a faculty and college could cause potential conflicts of interest.

However, she assured that there are systems in place to make sure decisions are made in an ethical and fair manner. She explained that the faculty dean reports to her, and that she ensures that decisions are fair and balanced.

Student Concern

The recent appointment of Nickerson to the dual position has garnered mixed reactions from student groups hoping that the next dean of the RFHS would remain separate from the dean of the MRCM.

On Feb. 9 2022, leaders of six student groups signed a letter addressed to president Benarroch and Hiebert-Murphy expressing their concern over the hiring of a new dean of the RFHS that is also the dean of medicine.

They urged administration to separate the position of dean of the RFHS and dean of any health sciences college. They also asked that the position of dean of the RFHS be open to applicants from all the RFHS colleges.

The signees stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the reality of health care in the province. They argued that for there to be a truly integrated faculty of health sciences, the two positions must disjoin. This would allow for more equity among the colleges and wider opportunity for leadership in the RFHS.

Marianna Pozdirca, past president of the University of Manitoba Pharmacy Students’ Association (UMPhSA) during the 2021-22 academic year and current member of the UMPhSA council, was the undergraduate student representative on the presidential advisory committee for the appointment of the dean of the RFHS and dean of the MRCM.

Speaking on behalf of the UMPhSA, one of the groups that signed the letter to Benarroch and Hiebert-Murphy, Pozdirca said in an email interview that after the appointment of Dr. Nickerson the student group “has not changed, just as the dual role has not changed.”

Pozdirca noted that administration has adequately communicated with students about the hiring process. She also said that Nickerson has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to inter-professionalism throughout his career, which gives her hope for the future of the RFHS.

However, as long as the dean of the RFHS and of the MRCM is a dual role, she believes that conflicts of interest will exist.

“Until the dual role is disjoined, students (and others) throughout the RFHS will continue to feel the perceived and potential conflicts of interest inherent in a dual role, and the unfairness in limiting this leadership role to only one healthcare profession, thus limiting future potential candidates to a smaller pool of diverse and capable individuals, which can never fully reflect the current state of health care,” Pozdirca said.

“Student concerns about this structure (not the person occupying the dual role) must be acknowledged,” she said.

“This has not been done yet.”