Listen to patients, says retiring Toronto surgeon who helped treat Rob Ford

A Toronto surgeon who was part of a medical team that treated the late Rob Ford is retiring from surgery after a career that has spanned 40 years.

Dr. Zane Cohen, a colorectal surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, performs his final surgery on Tuesday

Dr. Zane Cohen, who is retiring from the operating room at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, says the key to being a good surgeon is to listen to patients. (CBC)

A Toronto surgeon who was part of a medical team that treated the late Rob Ford is retiring from surgery after a career that has spanned 40 years.

Dr. Zane Cohen, a colorectal surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, will perform his final surgery on Tuesday. Cohen said he will continue to see patients on his regular clinic days but is retiring from the operating room.

"As I tell people, there is no better job than being a doctor. And I think there's no better job than being a surgeon. It's a fantastic job," Cohen told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday. "You make an impact on people. You're helping people. What more could you ask from a job?"

Cohen treats chronic digestive diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's, which he calls "diseases of the young." He said these diseases mainly afflict people between the ages of 20 and 40, often come back and require more than one surgery.

After all his years on the job, Cohen says the key to being a good surgeon is to listen to patients. 

With his patients, he said he developed an almost "family-doctor-surgeon relationship" and has kept in touch with many.

Dr. Zane Cohen says he will miss the banter and teaching that goes on in the operating room. 'It's a very humbling experience to be a surgeon. I've done thousands of cases and yet there are still areas that you can learn from.' (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"It's something that is unique. I think very few surgeons are in this position and I feel fortunate. I develop tremendous relationships with people and get to know them really well. You are dealing with young families, you are dealing with the parents, I think you are dealing with the whole package," Cohen said.

"The best way to put [patients] at ease is to listen. Be a good listener and listen to what the patient is saying," he said. 

Patients with these diseases are often well-educated, spent time doing research and talked to other people also suffering, he said.

"The problem is we don't have a lot of time and we're seeing a lot of patients and they're squeezed in. You have to make an effort to spend the time with the patients and really listen to them," he said. 

Dr. Zane Cohen, pictured here speaking to reporters in September 2014 about Rob Ford, said of the experience: 'I had never been in a spotlight like that.' (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Cohen, who obtained his medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1969, said his parents encouraged him to become a surgeon.

"I think that there were a couple of choices given to me by my parents. They were immigrants from the Ukraine. And I think they were pushing me towards medicine, dentistry, accountancy, the usual, at that particular time. But when I got into it, I think that I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed medical school," he said.

"I had to make choices as to what kind of specialty I wanted to do, and I choose surgery. And I never looked back. I think it was fantastic."

Will miss banter of operating room

Now, after thousands of surgeries, he said he will miss the operating room the most. He said the surgeries are the "hardest of the hard, very difficult intestinal cases, each one is a little bit different."

"I will miss the operating room for sure — the team environment, being with the nurses, the anesthetist, the banter that goes on in the operating room and the teaching that goes on in the operating room. It's a very humbling experience to be a surgeon. I've done thousands of cases and yet there are still areas that you can learn from."

Cohen declined to talk at length about the Rob Ford case, saying he acted as a spokesperson for Mount Sinai while Ford was being treated there. "It was a very unique experience for me. I was thrust into the spotlight. I had never been in a spotlight like that. I was getting calls from everywhere, around the world."

He said the past 40 years have gone by "very, very quickly" and he is feeling nostalgic rather than excited about his last day in the operating room.

Cohen said he will act as a hospital consultant and will stay on as director at the Zane Cohen Centre for Digestive Diseases, a clinical research facility focused on the understanding and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases