Mar 16, 2022

Celebrating a fifty-year legacy of dedication and compassion

The Man Pang Lau Award in Psychiatry

Dr. Man Pang Lau
By Ben Gane

The new Man Pang Lau Award in Psychiatry will support resident research while honouring the legacy of a career that spanned five decades and three countries. Made possible by a generous gift from the Lau/Sawyer family, the award will focus on supporting learners performing research in the fields of transcultural therapy or addiction.

Dr. Man Pang Lau was a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. During his long career, his work with patients and his research were defined by his dedication and compassion. In addition to holding a number of leadership roles and cross-appointments with hospital partners, Dr. Lau published many academic papers, articles and books.

After Dr. Lau passed away in 2019 at the age of 84, his family chose to make a gift to the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry to honour his legacy.

“The award is an opportunity to celebrate my father’s contributions to the university,” says Dr. Man Pang Lau’s daughter, Dr. Suzanne Sawyer. A graduate of University of Toronto, she’s proud to help continue the work her father valued. “It also means a great deal to us to be able to support research in the areas that were so important to him.”

One of Dr. Lau’s primary research interests was transcultural psychiatry.

“He understood the importance of therapy that was adapted to diverse cultural contexts, and he also knew that the need for trans-cultural therapy was not always recognized,” says Dr. Sawyer. “He worked hard to promote it throughout his career.”

Dr. Lau’s recognition of trans-cultural psychiatry carried over into his own practice. He maintained a list of therapists who spoke Cantonese or Mandarin, to ensure he could redirect patients to therapists who could provide care in their own language. He sought office space in areas with Chinese populations, including Toronto’s Chinatown, and cultivated connections to local family doctors so they knew he was available to assist patients who needed mental health care.

In recent decades, the need to consider culture when delivering psychotherapy has been increasingly acknowledged and understood, as the field of psychiatry gradually catches up to Dr. Lau’s work.

Addiction was another major focus of Dr. Lau’s research. It was a topic he approached with compassion, delving into the social and cultural roots that could exacerbate struggles with substance abuse.

Driven by a love of learning and compassion for his patients, Dr. Lau wanted to continue working for as long as he could. Even in retirement, his dedication to lifelong learning continued.

“When he spoke about retiring, he said that as long as he had his books, and he could read and write, he would be happy,” says Dr. Sawyer.

She remembers her father as a patient teacher. “As a child, he taught me about anatomy and Chinese history,” she says. “I can imagine that patience would carry over to his work with his patients.”

The Department of Psychiatry offers an environment where ideas are tested and leaders are made, an ideal setting for learners who wish to follow in Dr. Lau’s footsteps. The Man Pang Lau Award in Psychiatry will provide them with vital support as they carry on Dr. Lau’s legacy of dedication and empathy.

The Man Pang Lau Award in Psychiatry is currently accepting submissions for the inaugural award. The nomination deadline is April 15, 2022, at 11:59 pm.