Shaping the future of surgery

As the Department of Surgery celebrates its 100th anniversary, we reflect on past achievements and look to the exciting tomorrow of surgical research and education.

4 October 2023

The Department of Surgery paid homage to our leaders of the past and looked to the future at our 100th Anniversary Gala. Speakers included College Dean of Health Sciences Dr. Brenda Hemmelgarn (photo), former and current Department of Surgery Chairs Dr. Stewart Hamilton and Dr. David Williams, and City of Edmonton Councillor Jennifer Rice. This exciting, informative and inspiring event was rounded out with a DJ, dinner and dancing.

The Department of Surgery community’s journey across two centuries, with milestones such as Canada’s first open heart surgery – only the second in North America – has taken it to being a global leader in research and education.

It’s one of the five oldest departments of surgery in Canada and the oldest clinical department in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta.

This journey began as the vision of a small community that has grown into 14 divisions with eight postgraduate training programs – all of which receive full accreditation by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons – 250 faculty, more than 100 surgical residents and 50 graduate students.

The researchers and educators of today stand on the shoulders of the leaders of the past. These innovators introduced the clinician/scientist partnership that ensures the department’s exceptionalism and success. It is one of the few departments of surgery in Canada with basic scientists embedded in the department, enabling outstanding opportunities for collaborative translational research. Learners work in high-impact research teams. Enthusiastic investigators leverage being in one of only two Canadian universities to offer a surgical research PhD.

For more than 50 years graduate learners have been at the heart of the research. A robust graduate training program offers them the opportunity to work with some of the best surgeons and scientists who come from across the globe to work in the university community’s state-of-the-art multidisciplinary facilities and institutes.

The surgical research programs are internationally recognized. The department’s redevelopment of its strategic plan that will drive its work for the next several years maps out exciting initiatives. One of these is expanding research programs in basic, clinical and education research, including the domain of regenerative medicine.

The success of the department's research relies heavily on the work these learners are involved in.

The training of basic science and surgical residency graduate students is based on a foundation of an active research program. Many basic science graduates go on to complete advanced degrees or postdoctoral fellowships across North America. Many surgical residents are often awarded prestigious fellowships based not only on their clinical abilities but also on their academic involvement, whether at the master’s or PhD level.

In its passion to help shape the future of surgery, the department is expanding its fellowship and residency programs.

The diverse nature of the expertise – that comes with attracting global talent to a department that launched its voyage from such humble beginnings – supports the recruitment of diverse faculty, residents and graduate students ensuring the department reflects the communities it serves.

This diverse knowledge base and skillsets, working and learning in multi-disciplinary facilities and infrastructure is a strength that allows for cross-fertilization and collaboration.

The department is part of the greater health-care community, accessing nearby state-of-the-art clinical, teaching, and research facilities, including the Cross Cancer Institute, the world’s most advanced cancer molecular imaging centre, and the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, which houses the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine-winning team that discovered the hepatitis C virus. 

Its partnership with Alberta Health Services attracts this diverse, global talent. The one-of-kind, brand-new Kaye Edmonton Clinic exemplifies what the department offers its learners: a million patients a year, and the full range of surgical subspecialties.

The department offers its residents and fellows the broadest range of transplant procedures in Canada and runs the country’s second-largest lung and liver transplant programs.

We are one of the very few centres to access one of the world’s most advanced electronic medical records systems. This helps future surgeons develop their careers and is a data mine for clinical researchers.

The department is a leader and pioneer in education as well as research.

The undergraduate programs also attract medical students from North America, Asia and Europe who join the community for world-class electives. 

It was the first North American university to offer an MSc in Surgical Education – a field the department leads globally in research and our surgeon-scientists win international and national teaching awards and write chapters in textbooks. Their passion to teach makes our instructors global leaders in teaching innovation and surgical education research.

Another special feature of the department are its teams of full-time administrators dedicated solely to supporting medical students and surgical residents, part of our community that makes a big place intimate.

As part of the surgical simulation program – one of the few in the country that is accredited by The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada – full surgical teams train in the Ray Rajotte Surgical Medical Research Institute, a unique facility combining training, research and innovative surgical procedures.

There is a straight line between this, and the department’s global leadership in surgical simulation research: creating the future of surgical training.

The University of Alberta is the only university in Canada to offer trainee surgeons the opportunity to apply innovative surgical techniques being developed by our research teams who are global leaders in surgical research. We have two world-class research institutes – The Ray Rajotte Surgical Medical Research Institute, a unique facility combining training, research and innovative surgical procedures – and the Surgical Simulation Research Laboratory – and are one of the few universities where full teams train together: nurses, surgeons and anesthetists.

The Office of Global Surgery (OGS) allows the surgical community to contribute to, as well as recruit from, overseas expertise to improve how surgical care is provided in underserved communities at home and abroad.

The office strives to strengthen and empower health-care systems in low-resource settings to deliver high-quality health care to marginalized populations around the world and in Alberta. It achieves this by leveraging institutional partnerships to build systems-level improvements to our target communities. The beneficiaries include patients, health-care providers, hospitals and academic institutions in both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries.

It fosters global partnerships to assist in developing health-care systems, surgical access and care, and academic initiatives.

From the pioneers of the past to the leading-edge innovators of today, the department’s community has been a leader, achieving a balance between technology and the human element that defines the art of surgery.