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A Neurosurgery and Bioethics Pioneer

Mark Bernstein with a patient
Mark Bernstein with a grateful patient in Ghana

Mark Bernstein will soon be off again - to Accra in the West African Nation of Ghana on another of his overseas teaching missions. He has gone on about 15 such trips, many of them associated with the Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery. He often brings a team - as many as three surgeons, three operating room nurses and one anesthetist.

Peter Yao from Toronto General Hospital is one of his anesthesia colleagues who has organized numerous visits to central China, one in which Mark participated in 2007. Most of Mark's trips involve hands-on operating room teaching. "The chemistry of the operating room is magical and universal." Mark has performed the first awake craniotomy in Indonesia, China, and Ghana. This is one of his many innovative contributions to neurological surgery. Mark loves surgical practice and is particularly passionate about neurological oncology. He has performed over 3000 operations for brain tumors - 3 the day before this interview and 2 scheduled for the following day. He takes pride in the fact that many of the patients go home to their own bed the same day. Mark introduced outpatient brain tumor surgery 13 years ago, in 1997. In the fall he will help set up a system in a Tokyo

hospital for awake outpatient brain tumor surgery. Mark received an innovation grant to support his novel approach to brain tumors. Over his career he progressively shortened the post-operative recovery period from 5 to 4, to 3, to 2, to 1 day and currently sends patients home the same day. He is a true pioneer in this area.

In addition to his surgical work, Mark has been a dynamic teacher, researcher and writer in neurosurgery and in the area of bioethics. He completed a Masters of Health Sciences program at the Joint Centre for Bioethics in 2003 and has published about 20 qualitative research papers on bioethical issues in surgery. Readers will enjoy his study of patients' views on the role of residents(1).

He has developed a very lively teaching program of bioethics within the Neurosurgery Division. Neurosurgery residents have become enthusiastic and reliable participants in the Clinician Investigator Program Research Ethics Day each spring.

Mark finds that the residents have become well-grounded in ethics and less in need of formal teaching than they were earlier. This a reflection of the successful insertion of the bioethics lens into the informal curriculum of the division. Following his neurosurgery residency, Patrick MacDonald completed the Bioethics MHSc. Program at Mark's suggestion. Patrick is now practicing paediatric neurosurgery in Winnipeg.

Mark is married to Lee, a native Los Angelina, and has three grown daughters, Lauren, Andrea, and Jody and two Labrador retrievers, Penny and Sherman. He describes the dogs engagingly in his prolific sideline of non-medical writing. He loves teaching residents and fellows and has won the Tovee Postgraduate Teaching Award, the Ross Fleming Surgical Educator Award, and many others.

(1) Eva Knifed, B.Sc., Julius July, M.D., and Mark Bernstein, M.D., M.H.Sc., F.R.C.S.C. Neurosurgery patients' feelings about the role of residents in their care: a qualitative case study. J Neurosurg 108: 287-291, 2008


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