One-on-One with Chris Lovato

Dr. Chris Lovato

More than 25 years ago, Dr. Chris Lovato made the decision to follow her heart, leaving her home in San Diego to start a new life in Vancouver.

At the time, she had no way of knowing that her decision would steer her on a new path filled with academic opportunity.

A professor within the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH), Dr. Lovato would go on to become the founding director of the Faculty’s Evaluation Studies Unit, which led to the development of a UBC database that tracks undergraduate medical students from admission to practice. She later served as interim co-director of SPPH from 2016 to 2018.

In July of 2020, Dr. Lovato became Vice-Dean, Academic.

In this role, she provides oversight of academic standards to the administrative functions of the Faculty of Medicine. She co-led the development of the Faculty’s newly refreshed strategic plan Building the Future and will be overseeing implementation and evaluation of the plan.

Where did you grow up?

I’m originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. My extended family has lived in the area for generations — in fact, even before New Mexico became a part of the United States. My mother was of Spanish and Mexican heritage, my father was Mexican and Navajo. I grew up in a bilingual home and a community that was a blend of Hispanic, Latino and Native American peoples.

What brought you to Canada?

I was an associate professor in Public Health at San Diego State University when a colleague and friend set me up on a blind date with my husband-to-be. It sounds corny, but we both fell in love at first sight. I resigned from my position, moved to Vancouver and we were married eight months later. It was one of the biggest leaps of faith I’ve ever taken and I’ll never regret it. I’m living happily ever after.

What do you hope to achieve as Vice-Dean, Academic?

I took this position because I want to make a difference. Over the 25+ years I’ve been at UBC, I’ve learned a great deal. I want to use what I’ve learned and put that experience to good use by supporting others on an academic track. So many people at UBC helped me along the way and now I feel that it is my turn to give back.

What are your goals and aspirations as Vice-Dean, Academic?

One of my main priorities is our strategic plan Building the Future. My goal is to advance the work we have set out to do by providing support and leadership as we implement the plan, particularly around our commitments which are embedded in our contract with society and our contract with ourselves. This represents an important new aspect of our strategic plan. It embraces the idea that to really make a difference requires excellence in all things, not only in the work we do, but also in the way we work.

What excites you most about guiding this work in the months to come?

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about working on the strategic plan is engaging with our community to identify and represent their ideas and aspirations. We’ve had excellent involvement and feedback from a wide range of people within UBC and also from the community outside of the university. Pulling all of that together into a tapestry of goals, and strategies that represent our institutional commitments has been a fulfilling experience.

I’m especially enthusiastic about the plan’s emphasis on people — people being a critical ingredient in what makes us successful. The idea that we are pursuing excellence in all things, not only in our research and teaching, but in our relationships and how we’re creating our working and learning environments.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a lot of incidents occur that have raised our awareness of the inequity, racism and discrimination within our society. The history of inequity, particularly towards Indigenous peoples, has been clear for a long time and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action has challenged us to address that. We each have a responsibility to contribute to making a better society through the work we do. We are in an excellent position to do that through our research and education, as well as through who we are as a university.

I know that the social change we want to see isn’t going to be easy and it’s going to take time but it’s something that we can’t neglect any longer. It’s time and it starts with each of us.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

My primary academic mentor once gave me advice about being a leader and I’ll never forget it. He said, “Everyone has a gift. Everyone has something to contribute — your job as a leader will be to figure out what that is and help them express it in their work.”

How do you like to recharge?

At the end of the work day, I like walking with my husband, Dan, and talking through our day. I enjoy unwinding with a glass of wine and listening to music. My music interests are rather eclectic — jazz, classical, The Beatles, and I’m very partial to music from the 40’s, believe it or not!

Since the pandemic, we haven’t gone out to eat as much and I’ve discovered how much I enjoy cooking. I get most of my recipes from Pinterest or Google by entering whatever ingredients I have to see what comes up. It actually works! I also love cooking Mexican cuisine, my heritage food.

What is your favourite spot in BC?

There’s an ancient tree on Bowen Island that I adore. It’s a thousand-year-old Douglas fir whose name is Opa. I try to visit that tree as often as I can. There is a bench near the tree with a tilted back. I like to sit there and gaze up at that magnificent creature. It helps me remember what is important in life and I always walk away with a smile on my face.

Learn more about the Faculty of Medicine’s strategic plan: Building the Future.

Published: September 2021