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General and Thoracic Surgery
General and Thoracic Surgery

Our history

The following is a historical account of the Division of General Surgery as written by Dr. Sigmund H. Ein and updated by Dr. J. Ted Gerstle.

It was not until Dr. A.W. Farmer became the sixth Chief of Surgery at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)in the 1950s that the Division of General Surgery was created. Prior to that, the paediatric surgeons (Mustard, Wansbrough, Wilkinson and Walker, to name a few) did most paediatric surgical cases with very little subspecialization. This surgery was done at the old hospital on College Street. In February 1951, SickKids moved a few blocks south to the new (present) University Avenue building. Dr. Wansbrough performed the first general surgical operation at noon on the day of the move - a pyloromyotomy for pyloric stenosis.

In 1956, Dr. Farmer appointed Dr. Stuart Thomson as the first Division Chief of General Surgery. Dr. Gordon Cameron was the first Chief Resident, and in 1959 Betty Coryllos was the first female Chief Resident in General Surgery at SickKids. There were six staff surgeons (Stephens, Simpson, Trusler, Fallis, Shandling and Burrington) who came and went during Dr. Thomson's10 years, and an Associate Chief Resident position was added. Duringthese 10 years, 18 trainees received their post graduate training in Paediatric General Surgery. Dr. Thomson continued to head the division until 1967.

In 1967 Dr. Clinton Stephens became the second Division Chief and this started a decade in which the Division moved from national fame to international recognition, because of residents and fellows coming from around the world to complete and enhance their training in paediatric general surgery, and because of the presentation and publication of a rapidly increasing number of significant clinical papers in all aspects of paediatric surgery. It was during this 10-year period, that the training program became officially structured into a two-year fellowship. During Dr. Stephens' decade as Division Chief, there were a total of six staff (Stephens, Simpson, Shandling, Fallis, Burrington and Ein) and 21 trainees received their paediatric surgical training.

Dr. Robert Filler was not only the eighth Chief of Surgery at SickKids, but he was also the third Division Chief from 1977 to 1992. During this time, the training program became one of the most popular and sought after choices in the annual North American Paediatric Surgery Match. Clinical research, presentations and publications continued at a high rate, liver transplantation started and a multidisciplinary Trauma Program was officially established. The Surgical Staff usually numbered five from among the following individuals (Stephens, Simpson, Shandling, Ein, Wesson and Superina). It was during Dr. Filler's term as Chief of the Division that the primarily private practice model of reimbursement for surgeons at SickKids was converted to a government-sponsored Alternate Funding Plan, and all of the General Surgical staff moved their offices into the hospital.

From 1993 to 1999, the Division struggled with its leadership and focus, with three Division Chiefs (Wesson,Pearl and Filler) each holding the Division Chief title for two to three years. Despite this,the busy clinical aspect of the Division continued at its usual high level, and the excellent quality of chief residents and fellows continued unchanged. The number of staff continued intermittently at five(Shandling, Ein, Superina, Wesson, Pearl, Kim and Gerstle).

It was in the late 1990s that the end of four decades of one of the finest trios of paediatric general surgeons that ever graced a children's hospital (Clint Stephens, Jim Simpson and Barry Shandling) came to an end. Their experience totaled more than 100 years and would fill100 textbooks.

In 1999, the seventh and present Division Chief, Jacob Langer, returned to SickKids.With his encouragement, the mostly young surgical staff (Ein, Langer, Kim, Gerstle, Fecteau, Wales and Chiu) has continued to provide excellent clinical care and fellowship training. Moreover, there has been an attempt to create focused areas of expertise within the surgical staff, both with respect to clinical issues and research.Dr. Annie Fecteau became the first female staff surgeon in the Division, and in 2004 for the first time all four fellows were women.

In the summer of 2006, Dr. Langer made Dr. Gerstle the Program Director. With the support of all of the members of the Division, the Surgeon-in-Chief, the hospital Executive, and the Director of PGME for the Department of Surgery, the fellowship program underwent significant changes to put it on a course to re-establish itself as one of the most popular and sought after choices in the annual North American Paediatric Surgery Match.

In parallel, a new partnership was created with a paediatric surgery group at the North York General Hospital (which is 12 miles north of SickKids). This group of two surgeons merged with SickKids, enlarging the Division to its present size of nine surgeons.

The seven Division Chiefs, from 1956 to 2007, have trained 86 young men and women, who presently practice paediatric surgery throughout the world. Among this group there were/are over 30 chiefs. All of these former trainees carry on the fine tradition of paediatric general surgery that they acquired at SickKids.