Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Patrick McDonald

Dr. Patrick McDonald

Associate Professor, Neurosurgery, UBC

Why did Dr. McDonald pursue a career in medicine?

He’s always had an aptitude for the sciences and a desire to help people so a career in medicine seemed like a natural path for him. However, the impact of watching St. Elsewhere, a medical drama in the 80s, while growing up shouldn’t be underestimated!

What was it that attracted Dr. McDonald to Neurosurgery?

For the initial years in medical school, he thought he wanted to specialize in obstetrics. During his third year, he was invited to shadow his friend doing a neurosurgery elective and had the opportunity to make a burr hole and help put in a shunt. That day was when things started to shift and the passion for neurosurgery began.

He also has a Master’s Degree in Bioethics from the University of Toronto and is a faculty member at UBC’s National Core for Neuroethics. He spends some of his time looking into conflicts of interest in research and clinical care as well as ethical issues in the development of new surgical innovations. What does he consider to be the biggest advance in Neurosurgery since he started practicing?

For the past few decades he has witnessed improvement in imaging develop so that you now know very precisely where you are going in the brain when operating. He wonders, though, if we are getting close to a point where we won’t even need to operate in some cases. With advances in genetics and molecular biology, there is a possibility that the treatment of a brain tumor might not involve an incision, but simply taking a pill.

BC Children’s Hospital recently opened up the new Acute Care Centre. What has that experience been like for Dr. McDonald?

From his clinic office, he’s watched the building go from a hole in the ground to a beautiful new centre with excitement. The private rooms and natural light create a better patient experience but the increased size of the ORs were the most welcomed improvement.

What does he find the most rewarding about teaching leaners?

For learners early in their medical training, he enjoys the opportunity to show them the brain for the very first time. As the learners advance through their residency and fellowship, he finds it rewarding when they are reciprocating the teaching experience by introducing different surgical techniques that they’ve done research in or read about.

Dr. McDonald takes pride that the pediatric neurosurgery group trains international learners who then leave BC Children’s Hospital and disseminate their knowledge and new skills throughout the world. He credits Drs. Steinbok and Cochrane for developing their internationally renowned program and attracting learners from all over the world.

He’s recently moved here from Winnipeg. When asked if there was one thing BC could learn from their health care system to make the BC healthcare system even better, this is what he said:

Think Big! Winnipeg, considering its size, has been very innovative and had success in implementing new technology in neurosurgery not yet adopted here in BC. They have been conducting Gamma Knife brain surgery – a minimally invasive neurosurgical procedure whereby highly focused beams of gamma rays are guided with surgical precision, without a scalpel and without the usual risks of open neurosurgery.  They also installed an IMRIS intraoperative MRI system. The initial technology for the system was developed in Winnipeg.

Who does he draw inspiration from?

Watching his two children, Nicholas and Emily, develop into well-rounded, compassionate and considerate young adults. He also continues to be inspired by his neurosurgical mentors at SickKids in Toronto who manage to balance productive clinical and academic careers with families and other interests.

So does Dr. McDonald have any spare time to enjoy activities outside of the hospital?

Yes he most certainly does! He likes to run, cycle, cross country ski and play hockey. He also dabbles in music and is a self-proclaimed “non-talented” saxophone and mandolin player.