Dr. Patrick Gullane, Otolaryngologist-in-Chief, UHN, was invested into the Order of Canada in November. We asked him how it felt, and what the ceremony was like. (The award itself was given in November 2009, but the ceremony took place a full year later, this past November.) Dr. Gullane also told us about how he ended up moving to Canada from Ireland, wise words for future generations of surgeons and more.


Photo credit: Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall; © 2010 
Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada

When did you learn you were receiving the Order of Canada and what was your first reaction?

On November 18, 2009, I was asked to contact the Governor General's office. My immediate thought was that someone within their office required some medical advice or opinion. After completing my first case in the operating room, I contacted the secretary to the Governor General (GG) who said, and I quote, "Are you Dr. Gullane?" Yes. "Well, you have been nominated to the Order of Canada. Will you accept this nomination?"

Needless to say, I was somewhat overwhelmed and accepted without hesitation. This Appointment was so unexpected and profoundly meaningful to me as a Canadian. Though I have been fortunate to have received honors from surgical and scientific societies in the US, Australia, Canada and Asia, this Appointment has certainly been the most meaningful.

Tell us about the Ceremony.
The ceremony began with opening remarks from the GG. Each recipient was individually escorted by the Aid-de-Camp to the front of the ballroom, at which time you bow to the GG and his wife. Mrs. Sheila Cook (who has done this job for over 26 years) reads out your accomplishments, limited to 250 words, followed by receipt of your insignia pin from the GG. You then thank and exchange greetings with both him and his wife. They were a most warm and inspirational couple. A photo is taken with the GG, after which you sign the book and return to your seat (I was #13—not, of course, superstitious). This was all followed by a light lunch.

That evening there was a Black Tie Gala dinner. It was a most spectacular affair with outstanding food, companionship and music—and a recital by James Ehnes, the violinist who was also one of the recipients. Words cannot capture the warmth of the event, friendship of our host—the GG and his wife—and the opportunity to meet a most diverse and eclectic group of people who came from so many different backgrounds and accomplishments, including the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics, Willard Boyle. It really made me aware of the incredible talent in our country, all of whom have impacted in so many ways the lives of our people within Canada and globally.

You are originally from Ireland. What brought you to Canada?
I was born in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland and received my medical degree in 1970 from Galway University. After my graduation in June 1970 I began my voyage. 

I immigrated to Canada and interned at Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario (one of the hospitals accredited by the University of Western Ontario's Medical School). I selected Canada because of the opportunity afforded medical graduates at that time, Canada's independence from the Vietnam War, and finally to accompany two of my friends already destined to immigrate to North America.

During the early 1970s, head and neck oncology was clearly a less defined sub-specialty than it is today. I selected a residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery over plastic surgery as it was my belief that our Specialty would dominate the field of head and neck oncology. Despite numerous sleepless nights, I knew that I made the correct decision in selecting otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

On successfully completing three years of advanced Fellowship training, I returned in 1978 to the University of Western Ontario, and in 1983 was recruited by the Department here at UofT. This re-location was a springboard to further career achievements resulting in my appointment as Otolaryngologist-in-Chief at UHN in 1989; and in 2002, I was Appointed as Professor and Chair, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, UofT.

During these years, I aspired to the establishment of a major Head and Neck Program. Dr. Alan Hudson, then Surgeon-in-Chief here at UHN, was remarkably supportive of this initiative and in 1997, through the generous donations (as previously stated) of a grateful patient—Mr. Bob Wharton and his wife Gert—we endowed three Chairs in head and neck oncology, including one in head and neck surgery, one in head and neck reconstructive surgery and one in head and neck radiation oncology. This initiative was a further impetus for future donors to contribute to this sub-specialty.

A combination of generous donors, hospital and University programmatic focus and finally the recruitment of outstanding faculty, many of whom served as my fellows resulted in this department's recognition and academic productivity that has made it one of the most attractive Institutions in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in the World.
I am indebted to this Institution, the University of Toronto and to all of my Faculty and prior trainees.

Why did you choose this field?
As a medical student I was afforded the opportunity to work during my vacation time at a small hospital in my hometown in Ireland, where I assisted in surgical cases and cared for surgical patients. As a result of this experience, I developed an interest in a surgical career.

One of the surgeons at the Institution was extremely talented and had a diverse background. While performing a parotidectomy once, he indicated that he felt there was a need for sub-specialization, and said to me "Why don't you take an interest in head and neck surgery and return to this hospital?" It was this remark, combined with my fascination for the anatomy about head and neck, that stimulated my interest in the selection of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery as a career.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
I feel that from a professional standpoint one of my proudest accomplishments has been the establishment of a major Head and Neck Oncology Program within the University Health Network and the University of Toronto, facilitated through the generous donation of a grateful patient—Mr. Bob Wharton and his wife Gert. A combination of opportunity, vision of the Institution and the University, the generosity of our donors and, finally, support of the administration and dedication to the specialty of head and neck oncology helped realize my dream.

This initiative was a further impetus for future donors to contribute to this sub-specialty area and in 2002, Dr Mariano Elia, another grateful patient, donated in excess of $2.5M to endow a Basic Sciences Chair dedicated to head and neck research.

What inspires you, or keeps you going?
I suppose that I was one of those lucky individuals who selected a career that was challenging, but also provided the unique opportunity to effect change. A quote from the famous comedian Johnny Carson on his final "Tonight Show Performance" –"I am one of those lucky people in the world who found something I loved and enjoyed every moment of it." That certainly describes me in the arena of head and neck surgery.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a similar career?
My advice to all trainees and those interested in a surgical career is – "To know the road ahead, ask those coming back."​

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