Rebuilding Faith in the Blood System

by Lori Wiens

Ken Fyke (BSP '62)doesn't deny he has one of the most challenging jobs in Canada, but he insists it's not as bad as people might think. Fyke is the chair of the board of directors of the new Canadian Blood Services agency. He says re-building people's faith in a safe and accessible blood system is terribly demanding, but also very interesting. "A lot of it is travel and meeting with different groups in communities across the country. I spend half of my time flying, but it's worth it because I feel it is so imperative to establish a safe blood system in Canada," he explains.

Although Fyke now lives in Victoria, he still considers himself a Saskatchewan boy at heart. He was born and raised in Moosomin, and at 18, he decided to study pharmacy at the University of Saskatchewan. He claims his focus at university centred as much on fun as it did on his studies. "I wasn't really academic. I lived in the Baldwin Hotel and we drank too much beer. I mostly remember Frosh Week and the snake dances and the football games and the parties. Those are the things that stay in your mind," he laughs. "Oh, and trudging to my labs in the old chemistry building on those mornings that were minus 30 degrees."

He graduated in 1962 and practiced pharmacy for a couple of years before moving into health administration. Fyke admits that when he first came out of university, his first task was to pay off his university debts, and that he didn't ever anticipate where his career would end up. Still, he had always been an ardent believer in the Canadian health system.

He recalls a time in his childhood when subsidized health care wasn't around. "I recall my mother needing surgery and us not being able to afford it until we could sell some grain in the fall. I saw what the lack of a system can do. I think that has had a major impact on my attitude toward health care," he says.

In 1971, Fyke earned a master's degree in health service administration from the University of Alberta. He also received the Robert Wood Johnson award for the outstanding graduate in his program. Since that time, he has spent over 35 years working in senior administrative positions in the Canadian Health field including stints as deputy health minister in both Saskatchewan and B.C. In fact, he remembers his time working in Saskatchewan in the early 1970s as being one of the high points of his career. "We were expanding health promotion programs. It was a time of building. It was exciting," he claims.

In 1984, he was recruited to amalgamate all of the hospitals in the greater Victoria area, and was instrumental in developing the Victoria Health Project which received national and international recognition. Then, in 1990, he served on the British Columbia Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs which he says offered him a whole new perspective on health care. "We spent time travelling to small town communities to talk to people. I remember meeting with street kids in Vancouver to talk about the health care system. That was really interesting," he claims.

Although he stays busy in his current position with Canadian Blood Services, he still has time to speak at conferences and to serve as a preceptor for university students. This ties in with his devotion to promoting health services research.

Soon, he would like to see himself slowing down and maybe doing some consulting. Then he may have more time to spend cycling and sea kayaking, and possibly even fit in some travel with his wife of 35 years, Dawn.

Fyke says he is happy with the things he has achieved and he believes that being from Saskatchewan has helped in his successes. "A lot of the values that I developed living in Saskatchewan have put me in good stead. I am proud of being able to say I'm from Saskatchewan. In the Saskatchewan culture people strive to do the best we can, and I think that has been extremely useful to me."