University of Calgary

Lecture of a Lifetime

UToday HomeApril 24, 2012

Tom Noseworthy delivered the Lecture of a Lifetime in the Libin Theatre last week, calling it “a daunting proposition and an incredible honour.”  Photo credit Jae ImDr. Tom Noseworthy delivered the Lecture of a Lifetime in the Libin Theatre last week, calling it “a daunting proposition and an incredible honour.” Photo credit Jae ImLecture of a Lifetime was originally inspired by Dr. Randy Pausch's widely publicized "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University in 2007. The University Senate launched Lecture of a Lifetime with the purpose of honoring well-loved professors who teach and mentor at the University of Calgary.

2012 marks the university’s fifth Lecture of a Lifetime. Those called upon to deliver it are presented with a simple proposition: what wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance? This year, Dr. Tom Noseworthy, a professor of Community Health Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine, was nominated by the university community to deliver this lecture.

“The Lecture of a Lifetime is at once a daunting proposition and an incredible honour,” says Dr. Tom Noseworthy as he began his remarks in the Libin Theatre. “I invite each of you to be in my shoes; you would understand that there is on the one hand a wealth and a world of things that one might choose to speak on, yet paradoxically it’s difficult to know what to say.”

With a career spanning 40 years—so far—Noseworthy has worn many hats, as a highly respected and dynamic teacher, a graduate student supervisor, mentor, researcher, administrator, and foremost, as a physician. Not short on experience or opinions, as the man himself freely admits, he certainly has some compelling material to draw upon.

The wisdom he chose to impart for his hypothetical last talk, was very obviously a reflection of the things that matter to him most; and with a hint of storytelling, a healthy dose of knowledge, some personal reflection, a challenge or two, and a few laughs to boot, those in attendance were undoubtedly left with at least something or maybe several somethings to think about.

To quote Chancellor Jim Dinning, “Tom, you can be you tonight,” and in that spirit, what follows are just a few selections from Noseworthy's 2012 Lecture of a Lifetime.


On lifetimes:

“Here are my thoughts on lifetimes. Simply put, each lifetime has three basic parts: a birth, a death and the life in between. So we start with the birth. Birth is about the gift of having parents and being parents. Our most critical time for human development in the formative first few months of life is a time over which we as individuals surprising exercise absolutely no control; none whatsoever. Yet remarkably this period and what happens in it shapes our long-term future health and wellbeing.”

“The genetic endowment given to you by your parents meets the environmental conditions that they provide for us. Period. If we get it wrong, either one, or how the two act in combination, life’s path is forever altered and prescribed for us.”


On health care most broadly in Canada and less so in Alberta:

“I’m really delighted to see the medical students here tonight, and when I ask them to think about health-care systems I usually ask them to think about, and to understand, the system from four perspectives: who is included, for what, who pays, who delivers.”

“What’s included in our health system? Canada started on a high note in 1971 but regrettably has failed miserably in modernizing the answer to this question. Can you answer the question? What can I reasonably expect from my health care system? Can you answer? Should you be able to? You can’t answer, regrettably. Should you be able to? Of course. It’s the country’s largest employer, it’s one of the largest public expenses that we bear; it can get you elected, it can get you thrown out; it has an impact on every one of our lives at one time or another.”


On being a professor and department head:

“Adjusting from the health-care system to a university was not particularly easy. The stakes, the pace, the intensity, the rewards, the differences in what was important, demanded that I adjust.”

“The single largest deliverable as a department head is to advise on and guide lives, and as a department head, this includes students, but particularly applies to those who supervise and teach them, faculty, and you hope in turn they pass it on.”


Watch Video Watch the University of Calgary’s 2012 Lecture of a Lifetime with Dr. Tom Noseworthy video.