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Surgeon’s Surgeon Returns to Particle Physics

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Bob Mustard celebrated at St. Michael’s Hospital

Bob Mustard was recognized for his contributions as a surgeon-educator at Gallie Day. He retired on June 30th. Bob was born in Toronto, the son of Robert Mustard senior, the Surgeon-in-Chief at Toronto General Hospital – “a surgeon’s surgeon who practiced General Surgery in the interval immediately following World War II. Physics was my first love. I studied physics as an undergraduate and in graduate school at Stony Brook. I particularly loved elementary particle physics, and worked with the collider, spending one and half years at Czerny and Geneva. There were many Nobel laureate level people working on the collider, which was then the first and hottest, a precedent for the current hadron collider. I realized I would have to stay in the United States to continue in particle physics and decided to go into medicine instead. I applied to the University of Western Ontario and entered in 1977, in part to get away from my medical relatives – Frazer Mustard was the Dean at McMaster and my father was the Chairman of Surgery at the University of Toronto. I liked London as a place to live and study. I still have a hobbyist’s interest in elementary particle physics, which is now very hot, because of the hadron collider. There won’t be another one in my view, because they wear out in 10 years, and the large hadron collider cost over $2 billion to build.

“I will study particle physics and operate part of the time with friends at North York General. If I continued at St. Mike’s I would wind up doing more call, more teaching, and less physics, so when my friend Peter Stotland suggested that I come there and assist parttime, it was a great opportunity. No responsibility, no fighting for beds. I had spent a lifetime helping residents so I’ll enjoy assisting fully trained surgeons. It is a common practice to stay on as an assistant after retiring from clinical surgery and it’s much more interesting and fun than the retirement activities of some other surgeons such as medico- legal or workmen’s compensation case studies. The OR is always fun.

“I go to PEI for about 3 weeks each summer to a cottage I have shared with friends for the past 25 years. My wife Ade and I also go to Hong Kong each year, staying with her sister in that very interesting former English colony. I have visited the hospitals there with a gynecologist friend. The hospitals are excellent, very well organized with feeders to the teaching hospitals. I have 2 daughters. Laura studied philosophy and information science, and Katherine is finishing in English at the University of Toronto.”

Bob loves PEI, the beaches, the day trips, the cottage, and the friends. He reads history, particularly nonfiction. His most recent book was Anne Applebaum’s History of Eastern Europe after World War II. Another was a History of the French Vietnamese War. He also read William Dalrymple’s History of the British Afghanistan War - an attempt to keep the Russians out, much like recent and recurrent versions. He is also a student of Chinese History.

“My approach to teaching medicine and surgery is the hard science approach- fundamentals and logic rather than memorization of symptoms to make a diagnosis. I like to be physically around for teaching (Bob is a loyal attendant at the Principles of Surgery course, which he coordinates, making up the POS exam during the lectures, an activity for which he deserves great credit). I let the residents progressively do more as I first assist. I stay with the patient to help, but I push the residents to ‘do it yourself ’. I keep my practice small and underbook the OR time.

“I have no problem with the work ethic of the young surgeons, and the subspecialist trend is also OK with me. Acute care is a good model. It works, the residents like it, and there are lots of consults.” He mentors residents for POS exams and takes in-house call at St. Mike’s Hospital as an acute care surgeon. “Residents are less stressed when they are not alone at night. They are grateful for staff level coverage to be available in the hospital. The emergency room doctors, and OR nurses occasionally call, - not just the general surgeons. I do general surgery trauma and Trauma Team Leader (TTL). General Surgery is sorting into two large groups, the subspecialists and the acute care surgeons.

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from left to right- John Bohnen, Bob Mustard, and Marcus Burnstein

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: “My practice as a generalist, like my father who was a surgeon’s surgeon. I like looking after other surgeon’s problems. I tell them: ‘Send them in’. I get lots of calls. I go sometimes to their hospital on the weekend to figure out what we could do with complicated cases. I talk to the patients and their families, then set the patients up at the periphery and bring them in for treatment at St. Mike’s. I’ve been to all these hospitals, including the academic ones.

Q: What is your advice to surgeons nearing retirement?

A: “My advice to surgeons is to get out before you are past prime; don’t hang around and get nudged out for waning competence. Have some other activities to organize your career planning.

Q: Is there a problem for graduating general surgery residents in finding jobs?

A: “General Surgeons have no problem with jobs, though some have had to look for a few months to get an ideal position. They have no complaints.

Q: Who were your role models?

A: “Bernie Langer with his surgical technique and his approach to surgical epidemiology and randomized trials. I went to London to do research with John Duff, a talented excellent surgeon and McGill researcher. We studied sepsis, and multi-organ system failure in animal models, and set up the lab at Wellesley. I shared the lab with John Bohnen for 10 years, and then got into teaching My other role models were my father, Bryce Taylor, Neil Waters, and Al Harrison at Sunnybrook.


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