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On Dec. 30, three UHN physicians – Dr. Michael Jewett, Dr. Heather Ross and Dr. Susan George – were named to the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian honours. UHN News is sitting down with each of them. Today, it's Dr. Jewett.
Dr. Michael Jewett is Surgical Oncologist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN, and Inaugural Farquharson Clinical Research Chair in Oncology, and Professor, Department of Surgery (Urology), University of Toronto.
In conversation with Dr. Michael Jewett
Q: How did you hear the news?
A: It's a bit funny because I never anything heard about it, even the nomination, until I got the call (he laughs). I almost didn't pick up because I thought it was fake. Usually what happens is they send you an email asking if you would accept a phone call, but I had deleted the email thinking it was spam. Twice they sent an email, and eventually gave up on emailing and phoned me. A lovely women was able to persuade me that she did indeed work for the Order of Canada, and that I had been appointed.
It was a tsunami of phone calls, emails, and text messages, many of which are from patients. (He pauses) These last messages in particular, make it all seem worthwhile. For some it's been a long time since I've talked to them so it's nice to hear that they're well. It's gratifying.
Who has had the biggest influence on you?
A: I have been fortunate to meet and work with many wonderful people but when I was a medical student, I was taught urology by a Professor named Andrew Bruce – a young Scot who had just come to Canada to be Chair of Urology at Queen's University where I was a student. Almost 20 years later, I was on the search committee at University of Toronto when we invited him to be Chairman and Head of Urology at U of T and Toronto General Hospital. Later on, I would step into those positions too. He had and still has (age 93) a great influence in my career including occasionally giving advice that I carefully considered before doing the opposite (he laughs). His advice has always meant a lot to me.
Ian Tannock and Mary Gospodarowicz were also major partners. Together we identified several cancer care problems we thought we could contribute to. Ian is a medical oncologist, and Mary is a radiation oncologist, and I have no hesitation in saying that together we changed the course of many treatments in urologic oncology. They're much smarter than I am, so I just hung on for the ride more or less. We actually interact now as much as we did then through the Princess Margaret Elders group, where we mentor young leaders in the cancer centre.
And undoubtedly my wife Brenda Gallie – she is a fantastic scientist and clinician and a huge inspiration for me. She's actually is a member of the Order of Canada (2014)…she's an ophthalmologist and was recognized for her work with the childhood eye cancer, retinoblastoma.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a physician?
No. I was young when I decided, but I didn't always know that I would study medicine. I started medical school when I was 17. I was just taken by the science and communications.
I have rarely regretted my decision. I often said to the residents, particularly when we were working hard in the operating room, 'Can you imagine doing this every day and actually getting paid, too?' That's how I have approached surgery and medicine in general. It has been a wonderful decision.
I also have to say, that when receiving honours for one's achievements, it is a good time to recognize our rich environment. We work in an incredibly deep community…everyone around us holds a key piece in the bigger picture and are often leaders in their own areas from the hospital assistant who wheels the patient down to the operating room to the CEO.
Q: What's next?
A: I have continued what we started. We have exceptionally bright and motivated patients at the Princess Margaret. Several started organizations like Bladder Cancer Canada and Kidney Cancer Canada. We learned so much from them about how to engage and activate our patients. I'm now involved with international groups to really understand our mantra of patient-centred care as applied (or not) around the world, especially when it comes to understanding cultural barriers. I also have a role in a small bio-tech company and I Chair the GU Steering Committee Renal Task Force in Washington.
Plus, I'm increasingly getting involved in non-medical things…some new hobbies here and there. I live on a farm so I'm doing a variety of farming things, growing hops, tending to horses. We are also reclaiming wood (he says excitedly), we just put an installation in downtown Toronto.
In the immediate future…I'm on my way to pick up oysters from Diana's Oysters. I recommend it to all oyster connoisseurs out there.
Dr. Michael Jewett has also held two Academic Chairs, one from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and most recently the Farquaharson Clinical Research Chair in Oncology.