May 1, 2003
by Simon Weinberg, DDS, FRCD(C), FICD, FADI
Allegedly motivated by budgetary constraints and a proposed change in the focus of its service programs, the impending closure of the internationally-renowned oral and maxillofacial surgery program and its parent Dental Department by The Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, should send a clear message to the public, the dental profession and the specialty as to just how unimportant and dispensable our services are in the minds of our medical colleagues and hospital authorities.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery training has a long, tenuous and checkered history at The Toronto General Hospital. Originally established in the mid 1950s by Albert Antoni at The Toronto General Hospital and The Faculty of Dentistry, the history of Canada’s first three-year, post-graduate oral and maxillofacial surgery program was in the early years marked by intermittent inter-specialty rivalry, discord and conflict. The specialty was clearly not fully accepted in the hospital milieu as a service of equivalent value to the other surgical specialties, but reluctantly tolerated as the proverbial fifth wheel and so it remains in some hospitals even to this day.
The Toronto General Hospital and the now defunct Doctors Hospital were the major sites for clinical training and nearly 100 oral and maxillofacial surgeons practicing in Canada, the United States and many other parts of the world received their specialty training in these venues. Over the years, under the leadership and guidance of some of the titans of Canadian oral and maxillofacial surgery such as Albert Antoni, Peter Smylski, Jack Symington and more recently the youthful talent of Cameron Clokie and George Sandor, the oral and maxillofacial surgery program at The Toronto General Hospital continued to develop and flourish, placing its emphasis on service, teaching, education and research and enabling it to reach its current status where it enjoys a world class reputation and stands shoulder to shoulder with the finest oral and maxillofacial surgery graduate training programs in North America.
How sad then, that a program of this international stature has been cut loose and set adrift without so much as a life preserver from its potential political rescuers at Queen’s Park, and how sad also that the powers that be pay little heed to the legendary history and prestige of this program, the matriarch of Canadian oral and maxillofacial surgery programs and one of only five such training centres in the entire country.
Expectedly, oral and maxillofacial surgeons and other dentists throughout the country have expressed shock and disbelief that such a drastic step has been taken and the point is, it was so easy to do, particularly in the absence of effective advocacy and the essential aid of the provincial government. I feel confident, however, that another home will be found for this illustrious program and I hope wherever it is, that this program is enthusiastically received and shown the appreciation, support, nurturing and respect that it so rightly deserves.
Let’s hope that this does not spell the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning.