NAIT alum receives honorary degree for a unique focus on the well-being of Albertans
Inspired by the exceptional care his mother received during the lead up to her kidney transplant and beyond, Mauro Chies (Medical Laboratory Technology ’88) knew from a young age that he wanted to be involved in medicine.
What he didn’t know was that resilience, education and curiosity would play a crucial role in one day applying his skills to an unprecedented global public health crisis.
This May, NAIT awarded Chies an honorary Bachelor of Technology degree for his contributions to the field of medical lab technology over the past three decades, and Alberta health care overall, including his team’s role in testing for COVID-19.
In a way, the honour brings him full circle. Immediately after high school, Chies enrolled in NAIT’s Medical Laboratory Technology program. Now Interim CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS), he persevered through challenges early in his career, including unemployment.
“I think that uncertainty helped me build up a lot of resilience over the years,” he says.
His experiences – from being at his mother’s bedside to advancing AHS – made him mindful of the fact that learning is essential to overcoming obstacles. Chies knows the importance of lab results and tests, but he also knows that health care is about people before all else.
Ahead of the curve
With the emergence of COVID-19, Chies and his team quickly tapped into Canada’s collaborative public health network in the hopes of building on existing expertise in virus testing.
“We had this novel virus and we had to figure out a way to monitor it ... and detect it by the most accurate means possible,” he said.
Scientists and technologists in Edmonton soon developed a homegrown mechanism for PCR testing. This became the largest per capita COVID-19 lab testing program in Canada.
“Other provinces eventually followed suit,” says Chies, “but Alberta got ahead of the curve because we had a group of people who understood the importance of having as many tests as possible.”
A lifelong learner
Throughout his career, Chies’s approach to overcoming obstacles was to rely on lifelong learning. At one time, he returned to NAIT to earn his general radiology certificate to diversify his skill set.
“I tried to work in as many of the different modalities as possible,” he says. “I wanted to learn as much as I could to contribute to making a difference.”
Chies also expanded on his health-care training by earning his Master of Business Administration. Within a year of that, Alberta’s separate health regions amalgamated Canada’s largest province-wide, fully integrated health system. Chies joined AHS’s executive team and later became vice-president of CancerControl Alberta Clinical Support Services sections.
An avid long-distance runner, Chies also attributes his ability to adapt to change the mentors and coaches who have helped guide him along the way. “You always need a coach,” he says. “You always need someone to look up to. You need someone to guide you both in your career and personal life.”
“I was lucky enough early on to find a physician pathologist that worked in the lab who took me under his wing and mentored me, and it was the biggest accelerator for me in terms of learning and growth in my career.”
But no matter how he grew in his field he never lost sight of the fact that, whatever skill or technique he learned, “You always have to keep in mind that there’s a patient at the very end of it and, whatever the evolution in the technology in the industry, was ultimately going to be better for the patient.”
The path to leadership
On April 4, 2022, Chies’s career path took another turn when he was named interim president and CEO of AHS. While his approach to leadership has evolved, his early recognition of the importance of lab technology to health care has remained a touchstone.
Today, with approximately 70% of hospital treatments requiring some form of lab work, Chies is looking to institutions like NAIT to meet the need for talented techs to fill unprecedented workforce vacancy levels created by staff turnover and retirements.
“The evolution of NAIT to produce graduates that are cutting edge, that are up to speed on all the latest techniques and that are qualified to hit the ground running on Day 1, is just paramount to health care now more than ever,” says Chies.
“We need to fill that knowledge gap quickly and effectively, and without institutions like NAIT, we just couldn’t do it.”
Adapting to change is a hallmark of Chies’s career as he continues to use his skills to make a difference in the lives of others. Whether running for wellness or running a health system, his journey has enabled Chies to reflect and redefine with each step and turn resilience into results.