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The Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Monthly Digestive
July 2020

Director's Message

Dr. Laura Targownik
Departmental Division Director (Gastroenterology and Hepatology)

Last month, the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology issued a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and also in support of Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) in the Canadian Gastroenterology community. This occurred of course in the setting of a much needed societal convulsion which appears to have (finally) compelled privileged society at large to acknowledge what is already well established truth to anyone who identifies as BIPOC; the devastating effects of systemic racism and its tragic consequences on the individual lives of members of the BIPOC community

CAG was not alone in this regard in issuing a public statement of support, and their statement followed or were followed by similar statements by nearly every gastrointestinal society in the world.  While it definitely feels good as people (and an organization) to align ourselves publically with what is good and what is right, I also imagine that some of us have questions about what the impact of such statements might be. Are members of the BIPOC community, or other structurally marginalized populations, really waiting with bated breath to learn whether the gastroenterology community in standing with them? How much do these statements represent performative posturing as opposed to a genuine call for action?  Or perhaps more pointedly, is this our burden to bear as academic gastroenterologists and hepatologists at the University of Toronto, regardless of how strongly compelling the Black Lives Matter message resonates on a personal level? 

Let me ask this instead….persons living with gastrointestinal illness come from all classes, races, and socioeconomic strata; the amount of privilege they hold is as diverse as their backgrounds of origin. Ideally, the community of physicians and care providers should be representative and shared lived experiences with the communities we treat. And like many specialties, it is worth asking what more we could be doing to better ensure that our faculty is making steps to increase our diversity.  While we are not doing worse in this regard than our colleagues across the country, I do feel this is an area where we can take the lead in implementing its remedy.

The U of T Department of Medicine has recently released its strategic priorities for the next 5 years; first among them is to embrace our role as physicians to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion among health care practitioners, and to ensure we seek out diverse perspectives when planning all departmental activities. This is a value we need to embrace in our division as well. It is not my role to be prescriptive on how we can accomplish this, but it is our responsibility to make sure we have this conversation, and seek out diverse voices from within and beyond our division to make sure we are making meaningful steps in the right direction.
To this end, our executive will be meeting with the incoming DoM Vice-Chair of Culture and Inclusion  (Dr. Lisa Richardson), to best determine how we can promote these principles within and beyond our division.  I encourage those among our faculty who wish to be embrace this initiative to reach out to me, so we can move on from acceptance of the role we have to play and on to advocacy and action.

Welcome to Our New GI/Hepatology Residents

With the new academic year, it is always a pleasure to be able to welcome our incoming class of future gastroenterologists and leaders, and we are once again grateful that these talented people have decided to make U of T their home for the next two years. Once again, our ability to recruit is a testament to our commitment to resident education, and are values as human beings, as well as the product of the sweat equity of all of the members of the RPC.
We will all get to know them quite intimately over the next 2 years or longer, but here is a little amuse-bouche about each of them
Dr. Bellal Jubran
Dr. Bellal Jubran is excited to join the University of Toronto’s Gastroenterology and Hepatology program! His path to fellowship started when his completed my undergraduate degree here at the University of Toronto in biochemistry. He went on to pursue medical school in the beautiful city of Montreal at McGill University. After graduating, he went out west and finished my internal medicine training at the University of Calgary. He’s particularly interested in liver disease, specifically in transplant-sparing or transplant-bridging modalities in advanced liver disease, along with autoimmune hepatitis. He is looking forward to learning from world class experts in all fields of gastroenterology here at U of T. Seek him out if you’re interested in the history of medicine, playing tennis or talking Tolkien
Dr. Heather Kosick
Dr. Heather Kosick is a Toronto native who completed her undergraduate education in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Toronto. She went on to complete medical school at McMaster University where she developed a keen interest in gastroenterology, with a special interest in hepatology. She then pursued her internal medicine training at the University of Toronto. Based on her clinical experiences, she developed an interest in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and had the chance to work closely with Dr. Keyur Patel at TGH who became her research mentor. Now entering her first year as a gastroenterology resident at U of T, Heather is excited to continue her research work in liver disease and luminal gastroenterology, exploring everything the program has to offer. When not on the GI service, you can find Heather enjoying long-distance running along Toronto’s nature trails or spending time with her ‘Instagram-famous’ cat Spruce. She is looking forward to a great PGY4 year to come!
Dr. Cindy Law

Dr. Cindy Law was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Markham, Ontario. She studied life sciences and psychology at Queen’s University and subsequently attended medical school at the University of Ottawa. She completed internal medicine residency at McMaster University. Cindy’s clinical and research interests are in therapeutic endoscopy, gastrointestinal oncology, and IBD. Outside of medicine, Cindy also enjoys cooking, playing tennis/badminton, and travelling. 

Dr. Daniel Low
Dr. Low was born and raised on the west coast in Vancouver, BC. He moved across the country to pursue my undergraduate studies in psychology at McGill University. He continued medical school at the University of Toronto, where he also completed my core internal medicine residency training. His clinical interests include therapeutic endoscopy and inflammatory bowel disease, while his research interests have centered around cost-effectiveness, health economics and artificial intelligence. His goal is to apply artificial intelligence (predictive analytics, visual algorithms, etc) into gastroenterology to improve research efforts in endoscopy quality and precision medicine. In his spare time, you can find me cheering for his favourite sports teams (Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Angels, and Toronto Raptors), trying new restaurants, reading anything under the sun, and exploring different parts of the world (next up El Camino de Santiago)."
Dr. Sahar Tabatabavakili
Sahar Tabatabavakili graduated at the top of her class from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. During medical school, she also completed her Masters of Public Health. Her long-standing interest in Gastroenterology led to translational research in gut motility in Emory University, Atlanta, USA, and later she joined U of T Internal Medicine and currently in Gastroenterology fellowship research track program in University of Toronto, where she has since been focusing her research on IBD and health care delivery improvement. She will pursue more advanced degrees in clinical epidemiology and health care delivery within the University of Toronto Clinician Investigator/Scientist Program alongside her GI fellowship. Sahar is an accomplished swimmer and Tennis player, hobbies she took up in her teens. She is also interested in canoeing and wild water rafting.

Congratulations to our Clinician Scientist Merit Award Winners!

We are fortunate in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology to have a highly productive cadre of Clinician Scientists performing innovative and influential research, and who are recognized nationally and internationally as key opinion leaders.  The University of Toronto strives to support the careers of our Clinician Scientists by providing each with an annual stipend of $40,000 for the first 5 years following their appointment. However, in the current era of cost constraints, it has been difficult for even highly successful Clinician Scientists to obtain or maintain external sources of salary support.

To address this issue, the University of Toronto Department of Medicine has created the Clinician Scientist Merit Award, whereby meritorious researchers can obtain as additional 3 years of salary in order to support continued excellence in research at the conclusion of their salary award or initial funding stipend.

This year, I am proud to say that all 3 applicants from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology were successful in their Merit Reviews. Congratulations to Dr. Mark Silverberg, Dr. Jill Tinmouth, and Dr. Mamatha Bhat on obtaining another three years of support in recognition of their contributions to date and their planned activities over the coming years!


Recognitions and Honors


As of July 1st, 2020. Dr. Jill Tinmouth was appointed as Director of Clinical Epidemiology and Health Care Research program, at the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at U of T

Dr. Gary May was recognized for his years of stolid support of fellows and early faculty in the Therapeutic Endoscopy program with the 2020 St. Michael’s Hospital Michael Ward Mentorship Award

At Residents Research Day, Dr. Keyur Patel was honored with the Dr. Gordon Greenberg Award, as selected by the residents as the most outstanding research educator.  The Lou Cole Award, which recognizes excellence in clinical education, was awarded to Dr. Zita Galvin

Resident Awards

In spite of the COVID-19 Pandemic, our Research Committee, led by Dr. Jordan Feld and Dr. Nazia Selzner were able to organize an outstanding online Resident Research Day program, which attracted over 90 attendees

The Lou Cole Award for resident-led education was awarded to Dr. Derek Little, and the Gordon Greenberg Award for excellence in research was given to Dr. Kirles Bishay.
The KK Jeejeebhoy Award, which honored the most outstanding graduating resident, was taken home by Dr. Parul Tandon

Congratulations again to all of our residents for their academic, educational, and humanistic contributions to our program!

Celebrating the Career of Dr. Norman Marcon

by Dr. Laura Targownik

For as long as I have been a gastroenterologist, St Michael’s Hospital (and before that, The Wellesley) was synonymous with therapeutic endoscopy And the reason why St. Michael’s is globally recognized as the centre of excellence for therapeutic endoscopy is ultimately thanks to the vision and determination of Dr. Norman Marcon (Order of Canada).

There is likely not a single therapeutic endoscopist across this country who was not either personally trained by Dr. Marcon, or by one of his protégés. Similarly, graduates of the advanced clinical fellowship at St. Michael’s Hospital (the first of its kind in the world) can be found leading their own therapeutic endoscopy programs around the globe.  And it would not be hyperbole to believe there are thousands of persons who were able to dodge the surgeon’s scalpel thanks to Dr. Marcon, whether by his hands directly, or by the virtue of therapeutic endoscopists around the world who have adopted his innovations.

And so it is with some sadness to have recently learned that Dr. Marcon has decided to hang up the endoscope one last time and retire from academic and clinical practice. Fortunately, thanks to Dr. Marcon’s foresight and commitment to education, St. Michael’s will remain the worldwide leader in endoscopic innovation and education for years to come.

Dr. Gabor Kandel, a long-time colleague of Dr. Marcon, shares the following on behalf of his colleagues in the St. Michael’s Division of Gastroenterology:
Norman Marcon, retires July 1, after half a century of championing interventional gastroenterology. He is the undisputed father of endoscopy in Canada, Officer of the Order of Canada, Professor of Medicine, recipient of at least one achievement award from virtually every GI organization.  As a researcher, he focused on harnessed technology to endoscopy, culminating in 157 articles and book chapters together with countless lectures and demonstrations. In recognition, the needle used to inject mucosa has been labelled as the Marcon-Haber injector, the tube to decompress dilated colons the Marcon catheter. He was the chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at the Wellesley Hospital for an unprecedented 28 years, and uninterrupted head since 1982 of the Annual International Course on Therapeutic Endoscopy. The secret to its success was Norm’s unique recognition of the educational value of live endoscopic demonstrations. About 100 fellows from across the globe have trained in endoscopy with him, 23 now professors, in a post-graduate endoscopy program that he developed independently.  In practice he was recognized across Canada as the go-to gastroenterologist to resolve challenging clinical problems, known to invariably help with patients when asked, no matter how scare his resources or sick the patient. He was relentless in moving endoscopy forward from an apparently undignified, frowned-upon, laughed-at activity unbecoming of scholarly internists, to a respectable field in its own right, arguably the means by which Gastroenterologists now contribute the most to medical care. All this he pioneered himself, stimulating, pushing and cajoling skeptic funders, administrators and colleagues to solve problems in clinical gastroenterology with endoscopic techniques. At the same time he fostered within his Division an unmistakable culture of collegiality and passion for endoscopy, consistently prioritizing the sickest patients requiring creative thinking for care rather than clinical guide-line adherence. The sadness in our Division from his departure is palpable:  We miss him already.

On behalf of the University of Toronto Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, let me share our great appreciation for Dr. Marcon’s contribution to science, and to humanity.

Please let us know of any news items, achievements or notifications you would like included in next month’s digest.



Copyright © 2020, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020 Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, All rights reserved.
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