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About the Institute

Profile of Eyal Cohen

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Dr. Eyal Cohen

By: Megan Hutchinson

Dr. Eyal Cohen, MD, M.Sc., FRCP (C)

  • Associate Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences
  • Staff Physician, Division of Paediatric Medicine
  • Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics, Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto
  • Scientist, McMaster University

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I grew up in Toronto and completed my medical training at the University of Toronto. I then completed supplementary research training at McMaster University. I’ve been a paediatrician at SickKids for the last 12 years. 

2. What are you researching right now?
I’m an applied child life services and policy researcher. This means I spend most of my time studying what we can do to better to improve the delivery of health care, particularly for children. Most of my work is focused on children with complex health-care needs. At SickKids, we treat children with a variety of complex chronic conditions, such as cerebral palsy or sickle cell disease. I’m interested in questions like: who are these children, what are the needs of these patients and their families and how can we design a health-care system that does right by delivering high quality care to them?

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
I would probably choose David Sackett. My graduate training was in epidemiology and he’s considered the father of modern clinical epidemiology. He led the development of evidence-based medicine, which stimulated clinicians to use empirical scientific methods to the care we provide at the bedside; and by extension the way we design policies and other interventions for society as a whole.

I trained in a program that he started at McMaster which brought together clinical care and research paradigms. He also spent a good part of his career focused on mentorship and how we can best mentor the next generations of researchers in health care.  

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
Tough question! I was thinking, is it the discovery of fire? The wheel? The Atom? The telescope? Intergalactic travel? I’m going to choose one that is relevant to health care: the sanitation revolution in the 19th century - when we discovered that clean water is important to health. Simple things like the insights from the Broad Street Pump outbreak in London led us to understand that how we remove sewage probably has had a greater impact on the health of humanity than any other discovery. Even today when we look at differences across the world in life expectancy and outcomes, places where access to clean water is still a major challenge have some of the worst health outcomes.

I chose this because it was tremendously impactful and is a very low tech solution to avert a problem. We spend a lot of time with new discoveries and really moving towards complex innovations but sometimes we forget that some of the most impactful things are rather simple.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
Probably the most important one is my family. I have a wonderful wife and three children that I try to spend as much time as possible with. I also really enjoy reading. One of the things I am most proud of and enjoy outside of my research is that a couple of colleagues and myself have developed a book club here at SickKids. We gather together a few times a year to discuss interesting books and use different parts of out brain than we do in our work lives.

6. What inspires your work?
I’m what is termed a clinician investigator. I spend about half my time seeing patients and half my time doing research. For me, one inspires the other and each one feeds back to the other. I take what I see at the bedside, and what I hear from patients and families and try to apply that to my research questions. This cycle keeps me going. I feel blessed to be able to live in both of those worlds and to be able to spend time crossing those two worlds repeatedly and trying to develop better bridges to bring new knowledge and understanding to better the work that we do every single day.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is an incredible organization filled with people who inspire you every day. As a researcher, working with some of the greatest minds solving problems related to child health, having the facilities and network to collaborate with people around the world is incredible.

I look at this organization and think what’s amazing here is the singular focus on the betterment of children’s health. Everyone at SickKids is dedicated to the same cause. From a scientist in the research tower, to the person that cleans patient rooms, to the clinicians who deliver care directly to patients. It doesn’t matter what your role is in the organization. Everyone is united by a really important mission.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In health services and health policy research, we know a fairly troubling fact. Most of what can be done to improve health in populations and individuals is not medical care. Most of it is related to the social determinants of health and inequality – things like poverty, nutrition and housing. Yet the focus of what we focus on improving day-to-day in our hospital isn’t addressing those things. I think the controversy lies in the fact that the solutions to many health issues are often political, and require enormous political will.

The reconciliation of what we know in terms of evidence and what we need to solve in order to have healthier kids and a better world, is a key issue that isn’t going away.

9. What are you reading right now?
I just finished a non-fiction book - The Gene – An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It’s about the history of the gene and the discoveries related to the gene. What I found so fascinating about the book, other than the eloquent descriptions of the science behind it, is the history surrounding gene discovery. I was reading about Gregor Mendel, the man that discovered the basic pattern of inheritance using pea plants in the 19th century. The work was initially largely ignored and it took decades for it to be used and cited to build upon its significance. That’s actually a really important lesson for anyone in their work, particularly in research. Sometimes there is a lag period between the time of discovery and the time of its application. The history of science is full of those anecdotes, but there are a lot of them in that book I found interesting.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
There are two things that motivate individuals. One is the extrinsic motivation from the outside world such as having a good job and making money. The other piece of it is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the fire in your belly that makes you get up in the morning and work a long day and want to work hard at solving a problem. The advice that I would give someone wanting to pursue a research career is to try to focus less on external factors they have very little control over and reflect on what is it that makes you love what you do. At the end of the day that’s what’s going to drive you. That’s what motivates me to come to work every day to care for patients, teach, and do research. If you can ensure that your work motivates you inside, then everything else will sort itself out.  

November 2017

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