Father of agricultural medicine honoured

Dr. James Dosman was recently inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.  |  CMHF/Owen Egan photo

James Dosman grew up wanting to farm his family’s land near Annaheim, Sask. Unfortunately, he developed asthma at age 15 and was forced to find a new career.

Now, more than 60 years later, Dosman has been inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) largely for his work with farmers and the respiratory affects that grain dust has on them.

Dosman’s journey to becoming what many people call the “father of agricultural medicine” started in Muenster, Sask., where he went to high school and attended his first year of university.

“In Grade 12, I was at St. Peters College in Muenster and the biology teacher said your marks are so good, you should be a doctor and I thought, ‘yeah, that’s a good idea,’ ” said Dosman. “So I did, and I don’t think I ever looked back.”

Dosman met his wife, Sue, in his first year of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and they were married after his third year. After a few years of general practice in the city, Dosman moved to Montreal with plans to specialize in cardiology at McGill University but switched focus when he was presented with an opportunity to come back to Saskatchewan.

“The head of medicine in Saskatoon visited me in Montreal and he said they were establishing this new lung diseases unit and asked if I would come back and head it up,” said Dosman. “It was a complex decision because I had so many job offers but in the end, Sue and I decided to come back. We still owned a house here and I had loyalties so we made the decision and we’ve been here ever since.”

Upon returning, Dosman’s work for the new partnership between the U of S college of medicine and the Saskatchewan Anti-Tuberculosis League — later known as the Lung Association of Saskatchewan — made immediate impacts in the agriculture industry. Their tests discovered grain dust was affecting the lungs of elevator workers, which led to an international symposium in 1975 and policy being put in place to reduce grain dust in elevators. Being a young doctor at the time, Dosman wasn’t aware just how rare it is to see changes being made so quickly.

“When you are young and into it you think that’s just the way it works. I don’t think I ever understood the historical importance. I more looked at it as an opportunity to do really good research. It’s only later that I realized how exceptional it was,” said Dosman. “Now, I think it was absolutely amazing that one young guy out in Saskatchewan might be able to stimulate a set of programs that would eventually, not only have provincial importance, but national and ultimately international importance.”

Dosman later went on to help found the Centre for Agricultural Medicine at the U of S, served as director of the university’s Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture and established the National Agricultural Industrial Hygiene Laboratory, also at the U of S.

In May of this year, Dosman became one of just a handful of Saskatchewan-born people to ever be inducted into the CMHF. He describes the induction ceremony as an “amazing experience,” but as honoured as he was to be recognized, the induction ceremony offered Dosman an opportunity that would be even more meaningful to him.

“Sue and I decided we wanted our six grandchildren to be there. So at Christmas I wrote a letter to each of them asking them to come and they were all able,” said Dosman. “So in some way the induction into the hall of fame offered an opportunity for me to share my work with my family in a unique manner.”

Dosman is still focused on improving life for farmers and rural people, only now he is looking mostly at sleep medicine after passing the specialty exams at the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2013.

“We have an application to the Canadian Institute of Health Research to look at the relationships between sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, and sleep deprivation,” said Dosman.

“Another project that we currently have is we are looking at the relationship between social conditions and sleep in two First Nations reservations.”

When the question of retirement was brought up, Dosman laughed and said how happy he is to not have many administrative duties anymore, but that he is still enjoying his research and clinical practice.

“I am finding that the workload is not bad. When I see my patients I don’t feel tired, I still feel stimulated,” said Dosman. “So I guess, I don’t know the answer to that question. But when I do I’ll let you know.”

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