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A Psychiatric Innovator’s Legacy

The late Robert Forsythe (MD’53) entered the world of psychiatric medicine at a time of fundamental changes—the years just after the Second World War. And it was undoubtedly his own firsthand experiences as a war pilot that influenced his decision to pursue medicine at Dalhousie in 1948.

Dr. Robert Forsythe
Dr. Robert Forsythe was a pilot during Word War II

“Bob always had an interest in people, but what he experienced during the war only heightened his curiosity and made him want to help others,” says Dorothy Forsythe of her late husband.

While Dr. Forsythe was training to be a physician, the health-care system was feeling the aftereffects of war: understaffing, overcrowding and the lack of effective treatments often led to restrictive care, relying on methods involving seclusion, as well as chemical and physical restraints. As his education and experience evolved, Dr. Forsythe recognized that medical science was on the cusp of developing effective treatments for psychiatric illness.

“When Bob began his career in the late 1950s, mental health was vastly different,” recalls Dorothy. “In fact, he was the first psychiatrist to use antipsychotics in P.E.I. It was the first time the staff had seen real changes, and the patients benefited too. The health and welfare of his patients always came first.”

 Over the course of his 50-year career, Dr. Forsythe continued to influence the field in many ways, including as director of mental health in P.E.I. and as chief medical adviser, psychiatry and neurology for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Making a difference in the lives of his patients always remained his top priority.

Thanks to the Forsythes’ generosity, his legacy and passion for helping others will live on through the Dr. Robert and Mrs. Dorothy Forsythe Prize, which recognizes a graduating student in the Faculty of Medicine with an aptitude and interest in psychiatry.

“Creating this award was a way to give back … We also saw it as a terrific opportunity to support students who could make great contributions to the field someday.”

“Creating this award was a way to give back to Bob’s alma mater, which has always held a special place in our family,” says Dorothy. “We also saw it as a terrific opportunity to support students who could make great contributions to the field someday.”

While Dr. Forsythe passed away just months before the first prize was awarded in May 2015, Dorothy says they were both extremely proud to support a student and recognize his hard work and dedication to psychiatry. For Andrew Dutcher (MD’15), the first recipient of the prize, it was an honour to receive the award commemorating someone he sees as an innovator. “Dr. Forsythe’s career was very inspiring,” says Dr. Dutcher, who is doing a psychiatry residency in Calgary. “The Forsythes’ support meant a great deal to me during my fourth year of medicine and will continue to inspire me throughout my career in psychiatry.”