Feature: Thinking big

By Cam Buchan

As Chair/Chief of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, Dr. Kevin Fung isn’t so much its leader as the conductor of an orchestra. And the music his department makes is being heard around the world.

Fung was appointed to the role in July 2017. Since then, a “think-big” philosophy has enabled numerous successes for the relatively small, yet young and diverse, department. Among its accomplishments are the first Soundbridge middle ear implant in North America; the first Transoral Robotic Surgery in Canada; internationally recognized programs of research; and an impressively large footprint at the School.

“This team has a positive culture of excellence, and a desire to do great things in whatever area they’re in, whether as clinician, educator, researcher, or leader,” he explained.

From great to greater

Fung was excited by the opportunity to step into the Chair/Chief role and gives full credit to Dr. John Yoo, Dean of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and former Chair/Chief, for building the foundation for the team’s accomplishments. His personal goal is to take the team from great to greater.

“I see myself as an introverted leader, trying to listen and nudge people forward, and let them get to their destination on their own,” he said.

Curriculum development is at the heart of the Department’s education mission. It’s being led by accomplished clinician teachers, including Drs. Murad Husein, Josée Paradis and Kathryn Roth. Collectively, they are leading courses and unique learning opportunities for medical students and residents at the School and across the country. Fung and Roth co-lead the Canadian Emergencies in Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery Boot Camp, a national simulation program which has been adapted to online delivery during the pandemic.

The Department also supports a strong culture of research excellence. Researchers are advancing the field through clinical trials and high-impact studies, including two internationally renowned research programs – The Head and Neck Cancer Translational Lab led by Dr. Anthony Nichols and the Auditory Biophysics Lab led by Dr. Sumit Agrawal. Success in funding competitions, recent faculty hires and the awarding of the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship to Peter Zeng, an MD/PhD candidate who is working with Nichols, also contribute to the Department’s research prominence.

Health economics, simulation, lactation medicine, patient safety and quality improvement top the list of other exciting areas the team is delving into. Fung recently appointed Dr. Julie Strychowsky as Director of Patient Safety and Quality Improvement in the Department. “She’s definitely emerging as a leader in this critically important area, which spans all pillars of our tripartite mission,” Fung said.

Fung himself recently received the distinction as a Canadian Certified Physician Executive, in recognition of his leadership.

In describing the culture of the Department, he has no trouble finding a suitable image.

“I think most everyone would say we’re like a family. We lean on each other in good times and bad. We all have diverse opinions, and we don’t always agree on everything, but it’s done with respect. And throughout, we’re always striving to be better.”

Cross collaboration

Fung’s personal area of research focuses on medical education, simulation, interprofessional education, and laryngology. With a deep interest in technology (he boasts a paperless practice), Fung’s current work is in developing a smartphone app for use by patients with voice disorders.

Before medicine and his arrival at Western, Fung trained formally in piano performance in Toronto. But one thing quickly became evident: “I decided I couldn’t really make a living playing the piano.”

Fung’s expertise in laryngology and a background in music led to a cross-appointment with the Don Wright Faculty of Music. Fung collaborates with Theodore Baerg, a professor of voice, who himself is cross appointed to Fung’s department. Baerg teaches the music side of professional voice users to Fung’s residents; and he, in turn, teaches courses specific to laryngeal anatomy and physiology to music students.

Fung also carries on a busy personal and family life in addition to his duties as Chair/Chief. Work-life balance is evident in his interests in cycling and running. In 2019, he completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors. He is often spotted commuting between hospitals and campus on his bicycle. Partner Samantha is a registered nurse working as a case manager at University Hospital. Their two daughters ­– Katelyn, 17, and Alexa, 14 – are national-level divers who have competed internationally.

Looking forward, the team in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery is embracing social media and other opportunities to take the message of the Department’s accomplishments to the international family of educators and researchers in their specialty.

“I think the sky is the limit for us,” Fung concluded.