CHAT REPLAY: Public Health, Private Lives


Health care is one of the major news stories of our time, yet the dramatic, individual life stories of the Canadian men and women who toil in this field are still largely untold.

Two years ago, the CBC approached Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto — the hospital with the largest trauma centre in the country — with the idea of producing a unique broadcast event about doctors and nurses. 

What would be different this time — different from the usual ER take — is that this series would focus on how the work carried out by these professionals affects their personal lives.

And so, in this groundbreaking series, the CBC has unprecedented access that reveals the incredibly challenging, and often emotionally charged, lives of a skilled group of medical professionals.

We followed four health-care professionals to see how they balanced the stresses of their jobs with their personal lives. You can see their full stories on The National beginning Sunday, Dec. 5. 

Dr. Jon (Yoseph) Barrett  


Dr. Jon Barrett ((CBC))

Jon Barrett is the chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. He is an obstetrician, a gynecologist by training. His sub-specialty training is maternal fetal medicine, or high-risk obstetrics. He delivers more than 60 multiple births a year.

Barrett's also involved in research and teaching. As part of his research work, he coordinated and published the first Canadian consensus on the management of multiple pregnancies, pioneered Canada's first specialized multiples clinic and was awarded an innovation grant by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre for $200,000. He is the principal investigator in the Twin Birth Study run by the Centre for Mother, Infant, and Child Research.

Women & Babies Program

Sunnybrook opened a new state-of-the-art women and babies unit in September 2010. The hospital handles approximately 4,000 births a year. About 20 per cent of those are high-risk referrals.

Barrett is director of the Women and Babies research program at Sunnybrook.  The team is involved in large international multi-centre randomized controlled trials in:

  • Obstetrics. 
  • Neonatology. 
  • Obstetrical anesthesia. 
  • Women's reproductive health.

More details on the program are available here.

Barrett left his native South Africa in the 1980s due to political unease. He trained in the United Kingdom and Australia and became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada in 1995.  

Faith plays a pivotal role in his life. He is an observant Jew. He prays three times a day. Barrett believes that he is here on Earth to perform God's will and prayer will help him do that.  Barrett is also a self-professed adrenaline junkie.

Sue Spina, RN


Sue Spina, RN, at work in the emergency department. ((CBC))

The first thing you notice about Sue Spina is her sunny personality and her ID badge that says: One Crazy RN. Spina says she always knew she wanted to be a nurse. Having suffered a family tragedy as a young child — her older sister died in a car accident — she knew she was going to do something in her life that involved helping people and making a difference. 

For Spina, nursing is her "soul-mate" job as she feels it allows her to use her skill and compassion to be there for people through the good and bad times and really make a difference. To save a life.

Sunnybrook trauma unit

Sunnybrook hospital is home to Canada's largest trauma centre. It treats more than 1,200 patients a year, ranging from accident victims to gunshot victims and patients with severe burns.

The unit has been in operation since 1976. 

Spina works 12-hour shifts that can be frantic and full of stress. She's known in the emergency department for her endless energy and spunky sense of humor. She believes that being able to laugh and de-stress is the only way she can get through an otherwise stressful, demanding and sometimes heart-wrenching job.  

Spina says every patient is special and she sees her job as primarily as a patient advocate. She's always positive and upbeat: she is a firm believer of working hard and playing hard — a philosophy that comes in handy when dealing with her three young sons. And as a single parent, the "organized chaos" of her work life continues over into her home life.  

She thrives on her adrenalin-packed lifestyle and would not want it any other way.

Dr. Gideon Cohen  


Cardiac surgeon Dr. Gideon Cohen. ((CBC))

Television may have sparked Gideon Cohen's interest in medicine, but what convinced him was watching his father have brain surgery and the impact it had on him.

Cohen is a top heart surgeon, one of only about 140 in the country.   He started his training young — as a teenager volunteering at different hospitals. He completed his cardiovascular surgical training at the University of Toronto in June of 2001 and spent the next year as the chief cardiac surgical fellow at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in the U.S.  

Cardiac care at Sunnybrook

Sunnybrook has one of the largest cardiac care facilities in Canada — the Schulich Heart Centre, with more than 6,500 surgical, catheterization, angioplasty and pacemaker cases per year.

Cohen tries not to think about saving lives. He prefers to see himself as a mechanic: he goes in to repair a problem and gets parts in working order again. Having said that, he worries a lot before going into surgery. Once in surgery, he feels totally focused and in control.  

When the dreaded does happen and he loses a patient, he feels he will never quite get over it and always carry it with him.  

Cohen's other passion is hockey, which he sees as the best stress reliever ever. He tries to hit the ice at least once a week.  

When not in the OR, he likes to spend as much time with his wife, Meg, and daughter Addison and son Jakob. He loves walking the dog as that helps him unwind as well.  

Cohen is a great believer in the Canadian health-care system and feels that physicians and surgeons for the most part are under-appreciated in Canada compared to their American counterparts. He's convinced that most physicians and surgeons in Canada chose to work here instead of south of the border because they love the country, the health-care system and the work.

A selection of Cohen's research is available here.

Dr. Jeff Myers


Dr. Jeff Myers (left) with palliative care patient Donald Burnett. ((CBC))

Jeff Myers runs the palliative care program at Sunnybrook and is a driving force behind palliative care in Canada. He passionately believes in a dignified end of life, and that how we treat the chronically ill and dying reflects on all of us.

He is a strong believer that every Canadian should have access to outstanding pain symptom management. He sees his role as that of an advocate in the field of palliative care — to make it more visible, credible and understood. He's worked in palliative care since 1999.

Palliative care at Sunnybrook

  • Inpatients: 800–1,000 per year
  • Outpatients: 400 new referrals per year

For Myers, there was never that one moment when he knew he wanted to be a palliative care doctor. It just sort of happened. The only thing he was always sure of was that he was going to be a doctor — which is why as a six -year-old he started saving for medical school.

The toughest part of his job, he says, is explaining to people what exactly it is he does — especially at dinner parties. It is awkward in our society to talk about death, he explains, which makes it even more important to talk and support the decisions people make around the dying process.

Myers admits that there is an emotional toll to his job. He never allows himself to "lose it" in front of his patients but when alone or with his husband — Jeremy — he allows himself to grieve. However, what keeps him going is the chance to witness moments of amazing humanity.

Myers is also an assistant professor and the newly appointed associate head of the University of Toronto's Division of Palliative Care.

A selection of Myers's research is available here.