Appealing to the Heart and Head: Dr. Roger Wong on the Importance of Compassion, Communication and Cultural Sensitivity in Knowledge Exchange


At the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, geriatric medicine expert Dr. Roger Wong was called to give his expert opinion to a national task force on COVID-19 and long-term care (LTC) convened by Canada’s chief science advisor, as well as speak as an expert witness in the Senate of Canada.

Standing before the task force felt like a poignant moment to Dr. Wong, a medical doctor and UBC’s Vice Dean of Education in the Faculty of Medicine. “When I think back to the earliest stages of my career, I never imagined I would contribute at the national level, sharing my learnings from an entire professional career – learnings which I felt were unfolding all at once during that intense, short period of time [of the pandemic’s first wave].”

Indeed, the focus on seniors’ care during the pandemic was critical. Canada’s long-term care homes were hit especially hard by the pandemic, with outbreaks and deaths devastating hundreds of facilities across the country. Residents of long-term care homes were disproportionately at risk of being infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and of developing serious outcomes from COVID-19. Specific populations of seniors, such as those of lower socioeconomic status, were even more profoundly impacted by the illness and pandemic.

Dr. Wong’s contribution was critical in shaping the report of the task force, which identified both short-term solutions and long-term recommendations towards improving conditions and enhancing the care and wellbeing of older Canadians in LTC settings. The importance of exchanging research and on-the-ground knowledge to directly address a very profound challenge facing the country had never been clearer to Dr. Wong.

The knowledge and experience that brought Dr. Wong to that pivotal moment in front of the task force were developed over a long career of working to advance the field of dementia and elder-care research. Through his efforts, Dr. Wong has profoundly affected the lives of countless older Canadians as well as their families, care partners and communities. 

We spoke with Dr. Wong, who was recently appointed as a member of the Order of Canada, to learn how knowledge exchange has shaped his research and innovation efforts in ways that have impacted policies, practices and real-world outcomes for older adults in Canada and beyond. 

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