Dr. Greg Powell has a notable career of leadership and innovation that spans 40 years in the fields of emergency and aviation medicine, education, and research. He is a Professor Emeritus, Emergency and Family Medicine, University of Calgary, and is a founder of STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) and the STARS Foundation (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service Foundation. He held the position of Chief Executive Officer, STARS & STARS Foundation until March 2012 and continues today in the role of founder and director emeritus. Dr. Powell is an internationally recognized leader in critical patient care, air medical transportation and emergency medical training and education and has received many awards and significant recognition throughout his career. In 2006, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contribution to the community and Canada. In 2021, he was appointed to the Alberta Order of Excellence.
What drew you to pursuing a Doctor of Medicine degree at UBC?
I always knew I wanted to be a physician and that I wanted to experience learning away from where I lived. I had family in Edmonton who were musing about retiring to Vancouver Island (parents) and living on the Prairies left me wondering about coastal life, so UBC was a great choice.
What is your favourite memory from your time at UBC?
Living in residence and studying with friends who came from distant places and then becoming lifelong friends.
What has been your journey since graduating from the MD program?
It’s been the journey of a lifetime. When one takes on a challenge to create something that does not yet exist, one has no idea what lies ahead.
After graduation, I completed my family medicine training in Calgary before heading to McGill University, at the time Canada’s only emergency medicine training program. He joined Foothills Hospital in the late 1970s as Director, Emergency Medicine, as the only formally trained emergency physician in the city, I collaborated with the University of Calgary to plan and launch the Emergency Medicine Residency training program.
In the early 1980s, I contributed to the formation of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. Alongside a small group of doctors, I crisscrossed the country to nudge major universities to establish programs in emergency medicine. With the support of medical organizations and in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the College of Family Physicians of Canada, my colleagues and I participated in setting exams, creating a board of examiners, and building the Canadian emergency medicine specialty.
In 1985, my friend and colleague Dr. Rob Abernethy and I leased our first helicopter and cofounded the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service. STARS pioneered the use of advanced communications, life-saving technology, and aeromedical crew training in medevac services. In the years since, STARS expanded beyond Calgary to Edmonton, Grand Prairie, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Since retiring from STARS in 2021, my wife Linda and I have been actively involved in advocacy and public awareness for the enhancement of organ and tissue donation and transplantation in Alberta.
How has studying in Medicine made an impact on you?
It has been my calling, professional identity, and friend in difficult times.
What advice do you have for students entering the MD program?
Pay careful attention to things happening to you or around you. As a young person, there are many choices and decisions coming. A seed will be planted by thinking and remembering. In the future, you will need to call on those memories to help shape your thoughts and choices.
Where do you find inspiration?
From my family. They support and inspire every new phase of life.
From what you have accomplished so far, what are you most proud of?
Helping to create a part of medicine that did not yet exist as a recognized entity and being a founder of an organization (STARS) that makes a difference.
What is one thing on your bucket list. Have you completed it?
I had one item on my bucket list: to find an amazing life partner and soulmate to share life together. It took me a while, until I was 29. That was 44 years ago and is still the best. Linda and I have worked side by side every day.