May 30, 2019

'I cannot say enough about his humble strength and visionary abilities'

Hude Quan's academic and teaching achievements celebrated by Killam Annual Professor award

Dr. Hude Quan, PhD, has pursued excellence his whole life. His dedication and talents have earned him a place amongst global leaders in health informatics for health promotion and disease prevention over the past two decades.

The professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), University of Calgary, has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and was named a Thomson-Reuters highly cited researcher in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The director of the University of Calgary World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Classification, Terminology and Standards and director of the new Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) at the CSM, Quan’s research focuses on developing and improving the quality of big data for use in precision medicine, disease surveillance and improving health-care systems.

Quan’s creative ideas and successes have netted him millions in research dollars and numerous accolades, most recently a prestigious University of Calgary Killam Annual Professorship for excellence in teaching, research and services. He is quick to credit those he works with, saying, “I am so thankful for the people around me. Without them, none of this is possible.”

Obstacles overcome at an early age

Quan’s humility and deep faith were cultivated during his formative years. Quan was born in a small town in China in 1962, when hunger and persecution were common. As a youngster he excelled in school, especially math, but his family didn’t hold high hopes for his education, as only families of the communist party members were able to attend university at the time.

But Quan’s intelligence and hard work paid off. He was just 15 when China reformed the university entrance system and he was invited to write university entrance exams, an opportunity given to just one in 1,000 high school students. Although he was unsuccessful the first time, at age 17, Quan rewrote the exams and was selected to attend Harbin Medical University, China. That’s when he was told he would be specializing in public health, a tough blow for the young man who dreamed of being a surgeon.

“I was upset, but I couldn’t change it,” says Quan, who went on to earn a master's degree in epidemiology after medical school at Harbin, studying the social determinants of health in the Korean population, of which he was part, living in China.  

Quan (first row, third from right) poses with the group from the Centre for Health Informatics.

Quan (first row, third from right) poses with the group from the Centre for Health Informatics.

Cumming School of Medicine

Focus on health at the population level

Quan collected health data from 10,000 people and set up a database that was used in developing China’s health information system. His findings helped set the course of his career. “The Korean population had the highest prevalence of heart disease and stroke in China,” says Quan, whose focus has remained on cardiovascular health at the population level.

After completing his master's, Quan landed his first faculty position at Harbin Medical University. It was during this time that he met cardiologist Sarah Quan, his wife of 30 years. Shortly after getting married, Quan continued his epidemiology training in London, UK, earning a diploma before heading back to China. However, despite his wife’s protests, Quan decided to quit his faculty position and was offered a job in business.

But fate intervened when Quan agreed to a favour for his old employer, the university, when they asked him to be interpreter for a group of visiting University of Calgary scientists, including Dr. Edgar Love, the former head of the Department of Community Health Sciences.

Calgary appears on the horizon

Love was so impressed with Quan that he offered him a scholarship to pursue his doctorate in Calgary. After much discussion with his wife, Quan started the program in 1993. “I only carried a small suitcase when I came to Calgary, and I started the program one month late,” said Quan, noting his early years in Calgary were a struggle as his scholarship only covered his tuition, meaning he had to work while he earned his degree.

Sometimes, Quan completed an eight-hour overnight shift before coming to school for a full day of academics. But Quan persevered, earning his degree in 1998 and began working as a data researcher at Alberta Health in Calgary. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in data quality research under the mentorship of Dr. William Ghali, MD.

In 2002, Quan joined UCalgary as an assistant professor. He developed and taught a class for graduate students on administrative data analysis methodology, a job he found very rewarding. “I love to see student success,” he says, noting many of his students have published papers because of this class.

Priority on advancement of staff and colleagues

Several of Quan’s old students now work with him, including Dr. Cathy Eastwood, PhD, the operations manager for the CHI. Eastwood praises Quan as a strong and driven leader, explaining he places the well-being and advancement of staff and colleagues at the forefront. “Dr. Quan is consistently focused on improving people’s lives ... he is a solid mentor who humbly leads and sets an example for treating all students, staff, and all colleagues with respect,” she says. “I cannot say enough about his humble strength and visionary abilities.”

Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, of which Quan is a member, says he is proud of Quan. “Dr. Quan ranks amongst the top one per cent of scientists worldwide,” says Anderson. “His research on administrative health data coding and the surveillance of cardiovascular diseases including hypertension has had enormous impact. His inspirational leadership has also produced the next generation of epidemiologists.”

Quan is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. He holds the Chiu Family/AstraZeneca Chair in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Libin Institute.

Nominations for the Killam Research and Teaching Awards close Aug. 10, 2019. The Killam Research and Teaching Awards honour outstanding teaching, supervision, and research at the University of Calgary. Nominations are made by your faculty’s sean. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate a scholar, visit the Research website.