Faces of U of T Medicine: Chaim Bell
The Department of Medicine’s Eliot Phillipson Clinician Scientist Training Program (CSTP) trains some of the best and brightest future faculty members who will pursue research as a major component of their careers in academic medicine. The program equips physicians to push past current practice and conduct research that will enhance understanding of complex illness to inform and improve patient care outcomes. Dr. Chaim Bell is one of over 100 CSTP graduates who have gone on to become leading innovators in medicine.
Dr. Bell is a clinician scientist and Professor of Medicine and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at University of Toronto. He is a hospital-based general internist and Physician-in-Chief at Sinai Health System. Dr. Bell’s research interests include health care quality, continuity of care, hospital epidemiology, medication error and patient safety.
Since completing the program in 2001, Dr. Bell has been greatly impactful in propelling the CSTP forward, supervising four trainees and championing the program. Writer Claire Wiles sat down with Dr. Bell to discuss his passion for the program and what sets it apart today.
Why is the Department of Medicine’s Clinician Scientist Training Program so important?
The CSTP provides an indication that clinician scientists, and investing in clinician scientists, is important, and that they are a focus of the Department of Medicine. It demonstrates that an investment in time, resources and funding is being made in people’s training, and it expresses the value of the contributions of the trainees. In an environment with declining funding for research, it’s an enormous opportunity to provide funding, particularly for those who might be training in areas of research where there are not as many funding opportunities.
Now, as Chief of Medicine at Sinai, I recognize the importance of the program even more. This is from a recruitment perspective, a planning perspective and a development perspective.
What sets the CSTP in the Department of Medicine apart from similar programs elsewhere?
As with a lot of things in Toronto, it’s the sheer size. You’re able to have a critical mass of people in the program, a critical mass of administrative help, a critical mass of instruction in various disciplines, and critical numbers of people who are able to supervise people in the program. It’s a product of Toronto. As well, there is a forced linkage with the clinical divisions where the trainees are working. It’s not just a research training program; it integrates the trainees’ research with their clinical area to make sure they are integrated within the discipline.
In what ways do you continue to learn each time you supervise a trainee?
Continuous learning in any academic environment where you have trainees forces you to keep current and on your toes. Supervising gives me the opportunity to learn new things from the trainees, and to go in different directions from what I’m used to, like different subject matter and methodologies than I’m used to. I also like imbuing them with the knowledge of my mistakes and my successes to help them become the best scientists that they can.
Over the span of your involvement in the CSTP, what have been your most proud moments?
On an individual level, getting accepted into the program in the first place was a great achievement. It was the recognition that I was going to embark on a career as a clinician scientist at a critical time in my training. I was one of the first people in General Internal Medicine to enter the CSTP, and at that time it was heavily focused on basic sciences.
Even more rewarding than my own successes have been the successes of my mentees. For example, many have been successful with grants and publications, but more so than that is seeing them get faculty positions. That recognition right at the end of the processes, that their achievements have exceeded their teacher, that they are recognized in a field that I wasn’t recognized in, to me is the best highlight possible. Knowing that someone can achieve something beyond what I would do, because I helped with the path, really is the biggest highlight.
Why is it important that we have more clinician scientists in the medical field?
Clinician scientists are uniquely positioned to link their research with clinical experience and vice versa. They’re able to ask the right questions and ask the most relevant questions from a clinical perspective to be tested in a rigorous manner. It’s the best opportunity to take those research findings and apply them to the clinical context. There are a lot of challenges, but in an ideal state you need clinician scientists to be able to ask those relevant questions and to be able to take the findings of research and apply them as best as possible in order to improve the research going forward.
What advice do you have for students and trainees?
Picking a supervisor is harder and more important at this stage in your life than picking a spouse.
Ok, almost as important. You should go into it with the same type of approach, underscoring the importance of the decision. Picking that supervisor is going to help transition you from one part of your career to another. They are going to aid not only in your training, but also as you embarking on the next part in your career after you complete the program. You have to know yourself and the type of supervisor that you should be linked with.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
Do research on something that bugs you. I joke that a lot of things bother me and that’s why I do a lot of different types of research. But really, do research on things that really resonate with you. If you do research on something that ignites you, you’ll be able to see it through the valleys. Research is not always about having that great idea. It’s about having that great idea and seeing it through to completion. A lot of people have great ideas, but not a lot of people finish them. A research career is not usually about quick wins. It’s about being able to see things through to completion, and that might take multiple years. The research topics that you choose must truly resonate with you, bother you and ignite something in you so you can sustain your interest over a long period of time.
This is part of a series of profiles that feature trainees and graduates of the Department of Medicine’s Eliot Phillipson Clinician Scientist Training Program. Established in 1994, this competitive program enables MD specialists to pursue research as a major component of their career in academic medicine and become leading innovators in research.