Geriatrics: An Unintended Journey - Page 5

same ob/gyn service which ended just prior to the 1967 six-day war. I had already fallen in love with the country as a student, but this prolonged period confirmed my initial impression.

Serving as an Israeli Air Force base doctor

I returned to the United States for my U.S. internship at the height of the Vietnam War and chose to move north to Canada following which I immigrated to Israel with my then Israel wife who I had met just prior to the six-day war. I did a six month pathology training rotation when I first came to Israel because of lack of language skills and then unexpectedly was invited and accepted a commission as a physician in the Israel Air Force where I served as an Air Force based doctor which included a monthly rotation as a helicopter evacuation crew member which was among the most exciting experiences I ever had.

On my release from the Air Force I took a position as a senior and then chief medical resident at the Shaare Zedek (Gates of Righteousness). It was during this two year residency that I became involved for the first time since medical school with geriatrics- Shaare Zedek had one of the first dedicated geriatric units in Israel. It was a remarkable experience and I witnessed outcomes that I had not seen on our general medical wards and the idea of a true multidisciplinary approach was taking shape. I also found much humour and good feeling among the staff and patients on the unit as we endeavored to improve the function and quality of life of older patients who had in many ways been dismissed as “not likely to improve” from other medical and surgical sources- this of course changed as our reputation in the hospital and in the city grew.

Israeli Air Force helicopters

I returned to Canada in 1973 with the goal initially of studying nuclear medicine with the plan to return to Israel and help develop that specialty at Shaare Zedek Hospital. Two things happened to change that plan the first being that I realized after a very short time that nuclear medicine did not satisfy my clinical and human interests- although I could master the technical aspects of the profession I missed the deep interactions with patients as people. I therefore decided to transfer back into Internal Medicine. The next major issue was the recognition that my marriage was beginning to unravel and going back to Israel was not going to happen in the near future or at all.

While trying to figure out what aspect of internal medicine or one of its specialties I would pursue I remembered my meeting in Jerusalem with Dr. Abe Rapoport from the Toronto Western Hospital who when being driven back to his hotel by me after presenting as a visiting professor at Hadassah Hospital offered to meet with me if I ever needed his help or advice. I went to him and after explaining what I wanted to do and how much I loved general internal medicine he asked me, “Have you thought of geriatrics?” to which I responded, “I did not know it was a recognized specialty in Canada.” He replied, “No it isn’t but there is a great institution called Baycrest and if you take the position offered to you by Dr. Berris at Mount Sinai as chief medical resident, I am sure he would let you do some work with or for Baycrest which is closely allied with Mt. Sinai.”

Baycrest Hospital for Seniors

I followed his advice and met the staff at Baycrest. I was impressed. I took the position at Mt. Sinai and started doing consultation for Baycrest for applicants and for those seniors transferred to Mt. Sinai for treatment. Within two weeks I knew that I had found my place in Medicine. The rest is history: working to get Royal College Certification which came in 1981, helping to build the capacity and reputation of Baycrest, returning to study Ethics and receiving my Master’s degree in 2001 and having a most satisfying career in academic geriatrics and ethics at Baycrest, Mt. Sinai and the University of Toronto- an unintended but most wonderful journey.

Dr. Michael Gordon is currently medical program director of Palliative Care at Baycrest, co-director of their ethics program and a professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is a prolific writer with his latest book Moments that Matter: Cases in Ethical Eldercare followed shortly on his memoir: Brooklyn Beginnings-A Geriatrician’s Odyssey. For more information log on to