Critical Care Medicine becomes an academic department at McGill

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By Maureen McCarthy

Critical care has entered a new era at McGill with the creation of the Department of Critical Care Medicine as an academic department in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. An emerging and rapidly advancing field of medicine, critical care as a discipline has not, until recently, been recognized at the Faculty level. Instead that work has largely been centred in the McGill hospital network with established critical care programs at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), as well as in the intensive care units (ICU) at The Montreal Neurological Hospital (The Neuro) and St. Mary’s Hospital Center .

“For the first time, we have an academic home for educational and research activities in critical care, which will position us to increase our stature as a national and international centre for the investigation and education into the pathophysiology and care of the critically ill,” says Dr. Peter Goldberg, Head of the Critical Care Program at the MUHC, and Interim Chair of the new department.

Dr. Goldberg along with Dr. Paul Warshawsky, Head, Division of Critical Care Medicine at the JGH, presented their proposal for the new department after extensive consultation with members of the hospital programs and ICUs. In October 2020, the University’s Board of Governors approved the request.

Unique objectives

Critical care medicine has changed dramatically over the past 50 years and has evolved into a field with its own clinical and research questions and educational objectives. “The clinical needs of critically ill patients have been well served by the hospitals’ programs and ICUs but our teaching has been confined to residency rotations in the ICUs,” says Dr. Goldberg. “It is our hope and intention that the teaching of the fundamentals of critical illness be incorporated into the medical school curriculum at McGill”.

Recruitment and research

Over the past 10 to 15 years, leading centres, including McGill, have ambitiously pursued the building of fundamental and clinical research initiatives in critical care. “But that research has been scattered across many departments of the McGill Faculty,” Dr. Goldberg explains. The leadership, provided by this new departmental structure, which includes the position of Associate Chair, Research, will bring greater focus and enthusiasm to critical care research and create an environment that will help attract the research stars of today and of tomorrow to our campus.  “It is our view,” Dr. Goldberg concludes, “that the Faculty’s institutional and academic prowess, so instrumental in a researcher’s ultimate success, will be channeled through this department to support its investigators not only within the McGill community but with important outside funding agencies such as the Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Santé and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.”

The department will have an Executive Committee which includes the Department Chair, the site-specific ICU directors, and Associate Chairs in four areas: Research, Clinical Practice, Education and Innovation. There are approximately 40 faculty members in the department consisting of clinicians, clinician-scientists and fundamental researchers.

The new department will also now be in a position to address a key issue in the academic promotion of critical care specialists, many of whom may continue to hold joint appointments in their respective base specialties of medicine, surgery, anesthesia, or emergency medicine. In the past, academic advancement has relied on evaluations provided by the chair of those departments. Going forward, the Department of Critical Care Medicine will now figure prominently in this evaluation process, a crucial step forward in providing a more thorough and comprehensive appraisal of these faculty members’ performance.

“The creation of the Department of Critical Care Medicine is an important step forward for our Faculty and will create exciting new opportunities in teaching, recruitment and research,” says Dr. David Eidelman, Vice-Principal (Health Affairs) and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. “The critical care community in Quebec is looking to McGill to lead the way in academic leadership in a discipline which is continually growing in complexity and in the number of patients needing care. Drs. Goldberg and Warshawsky are to be commended for their extensive work and commitment to the dossier and for leading the process to where we are today.”

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