He died nearly 75 years ago, but Norman Bethune is still influencing the relationship between the country of his birth and the country of his death.
The legacy of the doctor who treated the sick in remote areas of China helped the University of Ottawa win a partnership between the faculty of medicine's training program and Shanghai's Jiao Tong University, said Jacques Bradwejn, the dean of medicine.
"They told us they have an affinity to the Canadian system, there is an attachment historically to Canada through Norman Bethune," he said.
The partnership is not affected by scrutiny over how China has been clamping down on protests in Hong Kong, Dr. Bradwejn said. Schools of medicine can overcome issues that divide political opinions.
"It is the nature of faculties of medicine at universities to do good and to serve," he said. "What we are doing with Jiao Tong, which has a strong intent to serve the people, will eventually improve social accountability in China."
It is the first time a Chinese medical school has adopted a North American medical education model, but Canadian researchers also expect benefits from the joint program.
One of the first areas for the collaboration will be to train doctors in family medicine who can help patients navigate a complicated health system that favours those with resources and connections to access the help they need.
"In the rapidly developing urban cities of China, they have gone super-specialized with very modern hospitals, very well-equipped. But primary care has not been developed," Dr. Bradwejn said.
A patient with a stomach ache may have to find liver, pancreatic or kidney specialists. "You go from one to the other and you have to find the problem yourself," said Daniel Figeys, a researcher at the University of Ottawa and the Canada Research Chair in proteomics and systems biology, who conducts post-genomic research connected to large-scale changes in protein networks in human diseases.
Dr. Figeys has been travelling to China on research trips for nearly a decade and his contacts made the agreement possible, Dr. Bradwejn said. "By the time we went, he had already been there 25 times."
Over the past year, the two faculties have begun a number of research projects, including an initative to bring medical education strategies such as simulations to Chinese medical students.
Canada also can learn from China's health care. This month, Dr. Bradwejn is part of a delegation from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's office.
While complex to access, China's hospitals are extremely efficient and the university hopes to find lessons they can bring to Canada's strained hospitals. And for a researcher, the sheer number of patients who go through China's hospitals and the advanced technology available make possible research that would be difficult in Canada, Dr. Figeys said.
The first class of students in the family residence program will start in 2016, with some students beginning classes, taught by professors from the University of Ottawa and Jiao Tong School of Medicine, next fall. Rather than the six- or seven-year degree that is standard in China now, the program will offer a four-year degree.
"Our approach is not to go China and see how it could be beneficial for us," Dr. Bradwejn said, "but to go to China and invest so that we are both equal and stronger."