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Joan Hollobon – “It’s a Fact! And 30 Helen’s Agree!”

01 Oct 2019 10:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Joan Hollobon in Portland Maine August 1959

Joan Hollobon stood out among her peers and made a difference in terms of health care advocacy in Canada as a result of working as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985. As the little girl racing through the woods in the CBC television series Kids in the Hall would say, “It’s a fact!”, (and thirty Helen’s agree). The evidence speaks for itself.

In recognition of her outstanding career, Joan Hollobon was elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in 1985. An Honorary Member of the OMA is elected by unanimous vote by the OMA’s Board of Directors and must have attained eminence in science and/or the humanities - for contribution to public awareness of medical science, a fitting tribute to Joan Hollobon’s years of making medicine understandable to the lay public. At the time, Joan Hollobon was only the second woman to be elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association, and only the second journalist to do so after her mentor, Kenneth W. McTaggart, who was elected an Honorary Member 20 years earlier in 1965.

The following year, in 1986, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Medical Association’s Medal of Honour. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Medal of Honour is the highest award the CMA bestows upon a person who is not a member of the medical profession and is granted in recognition of (1) personal contributions to the advancement of medical research, medical education, health care organisation, and health education of the public; (2) service to the people of Canada in raising the standards of health care delivery in Canada; and, (3) service to the profession in the field of medical organisation.

In the Medal of Honour Citation presented to Joan Hollobon from the Canadian Medical Association at the time, Joan was recognised “for (her) contribution to public awareness of medical science” and “in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the public’s knowledge of health related issues, and the significant contribution which Joan Hollobon made to the public’s understanding of medicine through her newspaper reporting”.

“Joan Hollobon made a career of listening to doctors talk about remarkable achievements in medical research and health care practice, achievements that the public might well not have known about had it not been for this accomplished writer from Toronto. Medical reporting is an art and a science. It requires raw talent and polished skill. Joan, in her 25 years + as The Globe and Mail’s medical reporter, has become its acknowledged master. She has been one of the medical profession’s greatest allies.”

Awards recognising journalists over the years clearly demonstrate the degree to which medical practitioners and medical bodies in Canada have changed their views on the value of cooperating with the press and communicating with the Canadian public.

Joan Hollobon had learned her craft well.

So much so that on 24 August 1963, with the recommendations from no less than Dr. Charles Best (the Canadian co-discoverer of insulin), Dr Ray Farquharson, and The Globe and Mail general editor Richard Doyle, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to attend the one-year Advanced Science Writing Program at the School of Graduate Studies at Columbia University in New York for the 1963-1964 academic year despite only having a high school education. Following in the footsteps of her colleague David Spurgeon who had received the same award in 1958, Joan Hollobon was only the second Canadian in history to be awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Advanced Science Writing, and the first woman to do so.

In 1973 Joan Hollobon was recipient of the 1972 Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Medical Journalism Certificate and $1000 Award for Outstanding contribution to Medical Journalism in Canada, presented by Ortho Pharmaceutical (Canada) Ltd. in recognition of a series of three articles on transsexuality and the first sex reassignment operation performed in Canada that was published in The Globe and Mail on 31 March, 1 and 3 April 1972. Nearly 50 years later, this is still a ground-breaking topic, and only taking into account the annual inflation rate, the $1000 award would be the equivalent to nearly $7500 today, which underlines the significance of the award at the time.

In 1984 Joan Hollobon was awarded a Fellowship in the Academy of Medicine of Toronto, a professional and social organisation for medical doctors founded in the 19th century, and later that year, on 24 Nov 1984, Joan Hollobon was named recipient of the Health Care Public Relations Association Award of Distinction for Excellence in External Media.

In 1990, Joan Hollobon was awarded The Sandford Fleming Medal & Citation. Since 1982, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science has awarded the Sandford Fleming Medal and Citation annually to a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science. In 1990, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science awarded the medal to both Joan Hollobon and Marilyn Dunlop, the medical reporter for The Toronto Star, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science.

In 2010, at the age of 90 years old, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for the first time in the history of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (established in 1971) by then CSWA president Kathryn O’Hara to Joan Hollobon in recognition of her lifetime contributions to increasing public awareness of science and technology in Canadian culture and her pursuit of excellence in science journalism.

Joan Hollobon has not only won awards in recognition of her outstanding career as a medical journalist who helped to change the way Canadians understand health and health advocacy, but she also has an award named after her, which says volumes about her level of standing among her peers and in Canadian society, and the level of accomplishment Joan Hollobon made in her field.

The Joan Hollobon Award is presented annually by the Canadian Press Relations Society (HCPRA) “to recognize a print or broadcast story that has contributed significantly to the public's understanding of health care.” “The award, named in honour of Joan Hollobon, the esteemed medical reporter who covered health issues for The Globe and Mail for 25 years and who retired from The Globe and Mail in 1986, is offered annually to a member of the media whose work has contributed to the public’s understanding of the Canadian health care system. In a news item from The Ottawa Citizen on 30 May 2017, announcing the 2016 Joan Hollobon Award recipient, The Ottawa Citizen went on to report, “The award is named for Joan Hollobon, a medical reporter with The Globe and Mail until her retirement in 1986. During that time, she acquired a reputation as a master of the art and science of medical reporting.”

By Andy F. Visser-de Vries

To learn more about Joan Hollobon and her outstanding work in science journalism, check out the following articles:

Joan Hollobon's Outstanding Contribution to Medical Science and Health Care in Canadian Society.


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