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Thursday, 23.03.2017

Barry Blackwell: Joel Elkes: An Integrative Life

Paul Grof’s comment

Barry Blackwell’s writing captured the central points of Joel Elkes’ life admirably. I want to add a few words about a part of his life that is less familiar. When Joel retired from the chair at  Johns Hopkins, he had several options to consider. However, his former student, Nahum Spinner, convinced him to come to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Part of the attraction was the task of radically improving undergraduate medical education. McMaster was the place where such transformation started back in 1968 and the new approach was quickly catching in many medical schools.

There were several characteristic elements of the new educational system. The most important principle was to teach what a physician needs when he enters practice rather than, as in the past, lecturing on what the faculty wanted to teach. Joel, with his pioneering spirit, made several new contributions. For example, the creation of a large, integrated Brain and Behavior program was a significant achievement that benefited from the combination of his exceptional knowledge of neurosciences and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, his lifelong interest in the functioning of the human consciousness led to including group meditations into tutoring and mentoring students.

The educational principles that he nourished at McMaster, he later transferred to the University of Louisville in Kentucky. It was also during his tenure at McMaster that he became increasingly involved in painting. He bought a cottage on Prince Edward Island, as he felt that the location has unique colors and lighting.

I would be remiss not to mention that Joel had a profound positive influence on our family. He brought my brother from Prague to Johns Hopkins, because of their shared interests, and I had the pleasure of working with him at McMaster, eventually inheriting his position as the Director of research and education.  Our lives kept connecting many times, on various occasions.

Paul Grof

January 28, 2016