University of Manitoba
1) It’s your Chief year! Did you ever believe this year would come? How would you reflect on the journey overall thus-far?
It’s funny how time can be perceived. My first impression is that the residency has gone by in a flash. It seems literally like just yesterday that I came back (for my second residency) and got started. With some reflection however, I recognize that a lot of miles have been traveled during that blink and it represents a much bigger portion of my life than I would first guess.
2) So what is next? Where are you off to in July? Have you already lined up a job or a fellowship or are you still keeping your options open?
I have mixed emotions about next year; I’m extremely excited about starting a trauma and acute care surgery fellowship at the Vancouver General Hospital, but I’ll be commuting from Winnipeg where my wife (a respirologist) and our three children (Ella 9, Sophie 6 and Philip 1) will stay. Fortunately, they’ll be able to spend the summer in Vancouver, and I’ll do two separate 1-month electives back in Winnipeg to mitigate things. After that, I’m expecting to start work on the trauma service here in Winnipeg.
3) What are you going to miss the most about residency?
Not much!… Partly kidding. It’s a sheltered environment, and soon enough, I’ll have to put my big-boy pants on and make clinical and operative decisions on my own, so that’s a little daunting. Otherwise, there is of course, an element of camaraderie that I’ll miss to some extent.
4) Where did you go to medical school and how did you come about the decision to specialize in General Surgery? Was it something you gradually got into or is there an “aha” moment from your background or training?
I took a more scenic route than others. I attended the Royal Military College in the early 90’s, worked as an infantry officer with the PPCLI and deployed overseas three times over an eight year span before doing medical school in Winnipeg. I continued with the army so was obligated to do family medicine initially, then worked as a primary care doc on the military base. I knew very early that as important as family medicine is, it’s not really for me. My general surgery ‘a-ha!’ moment happened twice. First as medical student working with a rural surgeon named Pieter Willemse and then toward the end of my family medicine residency while working with a surgeon whom I still consider a very important mentor to me, Hugh Taylor. I lobbied the army hard to allow me to retrain and after two short years in practice was allowed to return.
5) Where did you grow up and what did you do in your life before medicine? Not just professionally, but did you have any hobbies or passions that you still pursue?
My Dad was in the army as well; he served as a combat engineer officer for over 30 years, so we moved around the country a fair bit. My formative years were spent mostly between Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal though, and I would consider Kingston my ‘hometown’. My brothers and I all joined the PPCLI and served (or are still serving) for various lengths of time, so the military has been a pretty big part of my life but I wouldn’t consider it a defining part of me. My family is my greatest priority, and I try to workout whenever I get a chance (usually post-call!). Some day, I’d like to find time to golf and play hockey again, but those things can wait.
6) If you had to go back and do something else, anything other than medicine, and more specifically surgery, what would it be?
That’s easy. If I could do anything else, I would have not transferred to the medical branch and would have applied and tried out (as many times as necessary) to our special forces.
7) If you could give some words of wisdom to new Residents starting General Surgery in the light of everything we’re facing these days across Canada (limited jobs, duty hour restrictions, more and more specialization), what would it be?
That’s a tough one. Firstly, I think the greatest thing you can do is to continue to live your life during residency. One of my mentors paid me a great compliment when he said that I had done just that: we had our third child, we moved into a new house, I attended as many skating, tennis, swimming and piano lessons as I could. These are big life-changing things and important day-to-day things that we managed to do despite the demands of the residency. I think the point here is that by continuing to live, you maintain a bit of perspective on what’s important. And while you might think that it distracts you from residency, I would argue that that perspective only helps you to be a better doctor.
Next, as far as service and education go, just do your best and be professional. Don’t be a whiner, but know when to stand up for yourself. Recognize that service has a tremendous amount of education inherent to it, but that teaching (there are many forms of this ranging from reviewing the pre-op imaging and indications for the surgery while the patient is being anaesthetized or discussing the tactical approach to the case at the scrub sink to formal didactic sessions) can be expected in return. Also recognize that you have a duty to your patients and your colleagues to show up. On time and well prepared. (Pretend your mentor – or your mom – is watching you). Stay healthy; if you like to work out, fit it in somehow. You might struggle to train for a marathon, but you can still jog three times a week if running is your thing.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. I think most people in medicine (maybe not as many in surgery!) tend to be a little hard on themselves. Remember how privileged you are to be practicing surgery; take the responsibility seriously, but give yourself a break if things don’t always work out perfectly. As another excellent mentor once told me after an awful complication: “If you never have any complications, you aren’t operating enough!”
I hope some of these very simple mind sets can really help you through your program… they seemed to work for me.