A Canadian doctor who is being hailed for his work in medical ethics comes by his knowledge honestly -- as a Parkinson's disease patient whose experience with the health-care system hasn't always been positive.

Dr. Philip Hebert was named "Academic Family Physician of the Year" for 2011, and recently received the University of Toronto's Department of Family and Community Medicine Award of Excellence.

Since the 1990s, Hebert has pushed for improved reporting of medical errors, so hospitals can learn from and prevent mistakes.

He is also the author of an introductory book on professional ethics for doctors entitled "Doing Right: A Practical Guide to Ethics for Physicians and Medical Trainees."

The advice he has for future doctors carries extra weight, due to the time he has spent on the patient side of the doctor-patient relationship.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 16 years ago, at the age of 48.

He has suffered the experience of being given the wrong medication, and after one of his six back operations, Hebert was left in agonizing pain by a nurse who would not listen to his complaints.

"One nurse said, ‘I have given you pills, and don't keep ringing the bell and I am going on break and I will see you in three hours.' I felt totally forsaken," Hebert told CTV News.

Hebert also remembers overhearing nurses blaming their patients for falling out of bed.

These are among the stories Hebert uses as he teaches young doctors how to treat their patients.

"It made me feel like I wanted to be a better doctor," Hebert says. "I wouldn't have let that happen. I have incorporated those lessons in what I teach my students."

Hebert is a professor of family medicine at the University of Toronto and chair of the Research Ethics Board at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

He was a family physician at the hospital for 20 years before retiring from active clinical practice in 2010.

Hebert is a medical doctor who also earned a PhD in philosophy. But he developed a keen interest in not only ethics, but also in probing medical mistakes.

"I think I along with other people shone a light on an area which is uncomfortable for medicine to look at," Hebert says. "We needed to look at how decisions are made in medicine and what is a good outcome."

Hebert says that when he first started probing mistakes, he found "a bit of a hornet's nest of errors," as well as some complacency that kept institutions from properly dealing with them.

Now, because of the work he and others have done, hospitals have safety and treatment quality initiatives aimed at bettering patient care.

"At least people are watching and are aware," he says. "It's a huge shift in medicine."

Another shift Hebert hopes to bring about is how doctors perceive patients. Most importantly, that doctors see patients as people first.

"I tell the younger graduates: spend time with them, find out about their personalities and their lives," he says. "They should feel listened to and heard."

He says that if more doctors listened to patients, "actually paid attention, many mistakes that happen wouldn't happen."

But Hebert also says the onus is partially on patients to take control of their care, ask questions and point out mistakes.

He advises patients to have an advocate on their side, so they are not left making big decisions on their own.

Based on his experiences as a patient, Hebert has a lot of tips for them including:

  • Be actively involved in your care.
  • Expect information. Ask questions, expect answers.
  • Consider all your options, including doing nothing.
  • If hospitalized, try to have vigilant support from family, friends.
  • Do not accept substandard care: inattentiveness, pain, suffering.
  • Query medications: make sure you know what you are getting.
  • If unexpected outcomes occur, expect timely concern, attention, apologies.
  • Seek support and advice from trusted health care professionals.

But it's to the young generation of doctors that he offers his most poignant advice.

"Imagine yourself in the bed, with the illness," he says. "How would you feel, what would you want, what would you want to know?"

With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip