Feature: Relationships and collaboration are central to the philosophy of the new Dean

“If there is anything I have learned during my life, it’s that relationships matter. As colleagues and leaders our job is to help identify mutual interests, foster collaborations, and forge partnerships,” said Dr. John Yoo. 

It’s a philosophy that Dr. Yoo will bring with him to his first term as the new dean of Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Understanding the value of relationships came early for Dr. Yoo who grew up playing competitive hockey and soccer. It developed further during his medical studies as he first witnessed the importance of the relationship between patients and physicians, and among health care teams. 

And it continues today. 

During the past quarter-century, Dr. Yoo’s professional identity has been as a head and neck surgeon and it has been defined through caring for patients one person at a time. Surgery, he says, is among the most intimate and privileged relationships between a physician and patient. 

Equally important to Dr. Yoo have been the relationships he has nurtured and developed in his leadership and teaching roles first as the Chair/Chief of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery and now as the interim Chair/Chief of Paediatrics.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Yoo and his family immigrated to Canada when he was very young. They settled in Sault Ste. Marie located at the heart of the Great Lakes. “The Soo was a wonderful place to grow up and it was about as typically ‘Northern Ontario’ as you can imagine,” he said. 

Much of Dr. Yoo’s childhood centered on family and sports - and a distant dream to become a professional hockey player. 

“People sometimes asked me if I ever considered a career in hockey, I did but three reasons stopped me from pursuing it - talent, talent, and talent,” he laughed. 

After high school, Dr. Yoo headed to the University of Toronto (U of T) where he pursued two years of undergraduate studies and his medical degree and residency. A test of sorts for the then young aspiring physician, he says choosing U of T meant stepping out of his comfort zone. 

Following his residency and fellowship training, Dr. Yoo joined the faculty at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. 

Soon appointed to a leadership role, he developed a reputation for making positive change by creating key partnerships and developing collaborations, recruiting the best people, creating the right environment, and supporting teams by encouraging them to focus on a shared vision.

In the operating room, he pioneered surgical techniques in reconstructive surgery for people with facial paralysis and disfigurement caused by head and neck cancer. As a clinical leader, he serves as the Fellowship Director of Head and Neck Oncology and Reconstructive Surgery and is the Co-chair of the London Facial Nerve Clinic. 

Fiercely committed to research, Dr. Yoo advanced his own program while expanding the platform within Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery throughout his tenure as Chair/Chief.

Meanwhile, his commitment to learners was recognized through numerous teaching awards and acknowledgements.

Today, in addition to his academic, leadership and clinical roles, Dr. Yoo serves as the Co-chair of Cancer Care Ontario Head and Neck Cancer Disease Site, is the President-elect of the Canadian Association of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology, is an executive board member with the Canadian Association of Otolaryngology and the Asia-Pacific Society of Thyroid Surgery, and he was the longest-serving Chair of the Canadian Chairs of Otolaryngology.

“In choosing Dr. Yoo as our next Dean, we’ve appointed a highly-accomplished surgeon and academic leader whose intelligence, drive and collaborative style will help elevate our medical and dental school to the next level,” said Alan Shepard, Western’s President & Vice Chancellor. 

Dr. David Naylor agrees. 

“John Yoo has it all,” said Dr. Naylor, the Past Dean of Medicine and President-Emeritus, University of Toronto. “John has outstanding clinical credibility, an impressive record of multi-disciplinary collaboration in research, a commitment to excellence in teaching and mentorship, broad and deep experience as a clinical and academic leader, and an international reputation in his field. He has a distinctive combination of talent, resilience, and resolve.”

With his first 100 days in sight, Dr. Yoo, has what he describes as a valuable perspective of the organization but is also aware of the need to learn more. Especially as an internal appointee, he wants to be careful to not suffer from biases that can arise from an incomplete picture of the whole. He is looking forward to understanding the School more deeply and the best way is by meeting as many people as he can.

He also wants to fight his instincts as a surgeon to try and fix things too quickly. “What leadership has taught me is don’t think like a surgeon, at least not all the time,” he reflected. 

He does intend to set the right tone for the School signalling that positive culture starts first with his conduct and those at the Dean’s office. 

“Western is one of Canada’s great Universities and I feel deeply humbled to be selected as the next Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry,” he said while sharing his enthusiasm and pride in his new role.  He added, “I’m also excited. I’m excited about the incredible talent and capacity of our faculty, learners and the community. I’m excited that I will be in a position to advocate and promote the amazing things that our School does. And I’m excited by the opportunity we have to be the living example for the world of how a faculty of medicine and dentistry can play a central role within an integrated community of research, education and clinical excellence.”

For Dr. Yoo getting there means having a plan. It’s a plan that will focus on a strong alignment between the School and its hospital partners; on a reaffirmation of the School’s commitment to be a top-tier research-intensive organization; on increased collaboration between departments and faculties, on a reconnection with clinical faculty; on strengthening the relationship within the School’s distributed network and prioritizing the dentistry program. 

It’s also a plan that will equip learners with skills to be the best researchers and health care providers.

“Our learners are immersed in a data-driven, algorithm-directed, automation-of-care world, and we need to provide them with the experiences to be inspired by the human element of care, who approach the patient-caregiver relationship with humility, respect and compassion,” Dr. Yoo said.

It will also mean harnessing the School’s unique attributes to successfully move into the next decade as the global environment continues to grow and become more complex and the health care environment continues to shift at an accelerated pace. 

“We are part of an incredibly powerful, diverse and dynamic health care environment while having an ethos of community spirit like no other place in Canada. I care deeply about what happens here and the future we will create together for each other and successive generations of faculty, staff and learners,” Dr. Yoo said. 

Read the announcement from the Provost’s office.