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Giving back to the future

By Jennifer Parraga, BA'93

Running the Central Park loop in New York City became a daily habit for Drs. Brett Howe and Kristina Lutz during the year they spent in the city that never sleeps.

It was a welcome break from their hectic sub-specialty training schedule in surgery.

That daily gift of time gave them a chance to reflect on the health care system they were working in that was vastly different than the one in which they trained. They often chatted about the positive aspects of the Canadian health care system and the role they could play in making it even better.

That desire to make change was one of the factors that motivated them to join the faculty at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry – Windsor Campus. The other was the gratitude that these Schulich Medicine alumni feel for the School that gave them the tools to be successful surgeons.

Drs. Howe and Lutz met during their undergraduate medical studies at Schulich Medicine. They starting dating just before the residency match and both completed their surgical residencies in London with Schulich Medicine.

“We feel very grateful to our medical school and we feel a strong connection to Schulich Medicine and the surgical training programs there, and we would like to give back,” said Dr. Lutz.

The surgeons teach lectures to medical students during the surgical clerkship blocks, and teach clerks in their clinics and operating rooms during their surgical rotations. Thanks to Dr. Lutz, the Windsor Campus has been able to add plastics back into the curriculum for undergraduates. They both also teach residents in plastic and general surgery.

“We had such a great experience in London and want to ensure students at the Windsor Campus have equal opportunity to specialty programs,” said Dr. Howe.

The two young faculty members have busy clinical loads and are also new parents, so their days can be hectic. In the busiest times they are reminded of their mentors - the advice provided and approach they modeled.

Dr. Howe admits that being a good doctor and teaching isn’t easy. He believes it takes time to develop the right skill set and that time management skills are of the essence.

“During my training, I worked with a number of individuals who demonstrated excellent time management skills, but Dr. Michael Ott really stands out as someone who was able to balance an extremely busy life with academics, clinical work and a busy family. He always had time for his patients, residents and colleagues,” he said.

Dr. Lutz’s mentors were Drs. Doug Ross and Christopher Scilley. For her, they demonstrated how to combine hard work and compassion and find a way to display this to patients, clerks and residents regardless of how hectic their schedules were.  

As relatively recent graduates, Drs. Howe and Lutz haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be medical students and believe they have a lot to offer current students and trainees.

True to their altruistic spirit, they say the rewards they receive from teaching and providing patient care are far greater than anything they can give.

“My patients teach me about the illness experience and my role in making this experience a positive one, regardless of the outcome,” said Dr. Lutz. Dr. Howe agrees, and admits that students make him a better doctor.

“Seeing our patients and students be successful bring us the greatest satisfaction,” added Dr. Lutz.

And while they both wish there could be more hours in the day to get everything done, they are excited about the future and hope to continue to expand their roles as educators.

The young physicians aren’t running through Central Park anymore, but they use well-planned vacations for opportunities to pause, reflect and explore those things in life that have meaning and make them happy.