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Dr. Bryce Taylor
Dr. Bryce Taylor was recently named a Member of the Order of Canada for his "sustained impact on the teaching and practice of surgery in Canada." (Photo: Courtesy Dr. Bryce Taylor)

Dr. Bryce Taylor's long and distinguished career in medicine was recently summarized this way: "sustained impact on the teaching and practice of surgery in Canada."

But those who know Dr. Taylor, former Surgeon-in-Chief and Director of Surgical Services at UHN, say it's also his leadership and guidance with the next generation of surgeons which endures.

"Bryce has held just about every major leadership position in surgery," says Dr. Richard Reznick, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen's University, who was Dr. Taylor's resident and later colleague for many years. "His biggest impact was serving the academic ideal – mentoring the next generation of surgeons, improving post-graduate education, fostering surgical subspecialties, and helping and preparing residents to do the most difficult surgeries.

"He's also incredibly smart, can synthesize lots of information and get to the essence of a problem very quickly. He's an excellent communicator and he has never shied away from hard work.

"You put all that together – he's a pretty special person."

And soon, also a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian honours, recognizing outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Dr. Taylor was among 105 new appointments to the Order, including a number from the University of Toronto, made by Governor General Julie Payette. The announcements coincide with Canada Day and will be formalized at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa later this year.

Specifically, Dr. Taylor is recognized for his "advocacy in improving surgical safety standards and patient care." Dr. Taylor co-authored a world-wide World Health Organization study on the use of a Surgical Patient Safety Checklist, and is directly responsible for its adoption at UHN, and throughout Canada.

From the beginnings of his career as a general surgeon at Toronto Western, and later as a surgeon in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery at Toronto General, Dr. Taylor was interested in medical education.

Providing residents with a stimulating and fun learning environment

One of his major legacies was helping to develop a world-renowned program of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery and transplantation with clinical, educational and research goals. Begun in 1983, the program is now one of the most-sought after in the world, intensively training many future leaders in the field of abdominal transplantation, and graduating more than 80 fellows to date. 

From 1983 to 1989, Dr. Taylor was the Director of Postgraduate Education for the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto. Every year, he personally met with 30 to 35 residents and surgical department heads in 10 hospitals to carefully design and calibrate custom programs of study for them.

"That's where I learned my job was to work for the residents and the surgical chiefs. 'What can I do for them? How can I meet the objectives of the individual and the program?' became an approach that has served me well over many years," he says with a smile.

Dr. Taylor passionately describes how important it is to provide residents with a stimulating learning environment, as well as a fun one.

"It's a tremendously transformative experience to grow from learning technical skills to making decisions about what is in the best interests of the patient," he says. "What an amazing time it is in someone's life and the best ones know that this training period is just the beginning; you're always on track to learn more in medicine and surgery."

Serving and inspiring many constituencies continues to be the hallmark of Dr. Taylor's leadership style, and this approach informed the success of implementing a surgical safety checklist at UHN. It was introduced while Dr. Taylor was UHN Surgeon-in-Chief & Director of Surgical Services, responsible for one of Canada's largest surgical programs, which performed more than 25,000 surgeries annually in 29 operating rooms.

Dr. Taylor was one of the original surgical leaders consulted by the World Health Organization and the only Canadian site lead in a multi-centre clinical trial. The checklist was shown to reduce the rate of deaths and surgical complications by more than one-third across eight international hospital sites, including UHN, and the initial results were published in 2009 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. It is now the standard world-wide and a required organizational practice by Accreditation Canada.

In a 2010 article in The Surgeon by Dr. Taylor, Ms. Anne Slater and Dr. Reznick, the checklist was also shown to create a healthier team culture, with a focus on communication, accountability by every team member, and a consequent "flattening of hierarchy."

Reflections on first liver transplant at Toronto General in 1985

"People were proud to be part of this patient safety effort, and we had a lot of champions," recalls Dr. Taylor.  "There was a groundswell of enthusiasm by the whole surgical team because everyone had a voice and was important.

"It's a great example of teamwork in action!"

Dr. Taylor's clinical interests in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery and transplantation were inspired by Dr. Bernie Langer, a Canadian global pioneer of hepatobiliary/pancreatic (HPB) surgery. Together with Dr. Langer, and colleagues Drs. Gary Levy and Paul Grieg, he helped to develop a world-leading academic HPB and liver transplant service at TG in 1985.

Dr. Taylor still remembers the first liver transplant surgery at TG in 1985, when the procedure was evolving from an experimental form of surgery to an accepted treatment for many forms of liver failure.

 "It was a big deal," he remembers, "a major event. There was a lot of intensive examination of how to select patients.

"And it was and remains a technically demanding operation. The liver is a scarred, fibrous piece of tissue with engorged blood vessels. Veins in and around the liver are bloody and dangerous in very ill patients. Everything you touch bleeds. It has to be a meticulous dissection and the implantation of the donor organ is pretty complex as well."

Now, the liver transplant program is the largest in North America, performing almost 200 transplants a year.  

"It has been a privilege to work with so many outstanding people," says Dr. Taylor as he recounts the highlights of working in the Department of Surgery at U of T and UHN. "The glow that comes with a prestigious leadership position dissipates after about two days. What keeps you going is the exhilaration of working with colleagues, students, and the challenge of new and fresh ideas.

"And you always have to look after your patients, get to know them, so that you can do the best for them. It's fun, all of it!"

Dr. Taylor has assumed many surgical leadership positions in Canada, including being appointed Chair of General Surgery for U of T in 1989, Associate Chair, U of T Department of Surgery, and President of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons in 1996. He now consults with the UHN International Patients Program and is Board Chair of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

He is the recipient of many teaching awards, including the Anderson Award of the Toronto Hospital, and the Colin Woolf Award for Continuing Medical Education at U of T. A "Bryce Taylor Mentorship Award" was established by the Department of Surgery, U of T, in 2017, and the "Bryce Taylor Fellowship Award" in the Toronto General & Western Foundation supports specialized surgical training at UHN.

Dr. Taylor has published more than 115 papers in peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery and education, as well a book called "Effective Medical Leadership" in 2011. ​

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