Part of our series: FMHS community members from away – The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) is made up of diverse communities, including people from across Canada and around the world. This series recognizes those from outside the province who have chosen to bring their talents and expertise to McGill University. Thank you for all that you contribute!

“I’m on call,” cautions Jeffrey Atkinson, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the hospital’s Program Director of the Neurosurgery Residency Program, and Assistant Professor at McGill University’s Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. “It’s been a busy day,” he adds.   

“We had a transfer from another hospital last night for a very, very sick patient which involved multiple phone calls starting at about 10:30, and treatment continued throughout the entire night. And a patient arrived here about 5:30 this morning, also quite ill. I saw a patient of whom my colleagues and I discussed the surgical treatment of epilepsy,” says Dr. Atkinson, recounting just some of the day’s tasks. Add an outpatient clinic, pediatric neurosurgery follow-ups, and a couple of meetings about administrative matters, and you get an inkling of what he calls a typical day. 

Of course, the next question might be: What makes a small-town Ontario youth want to become a pediatric neurosurgeon, and eventually move to the big city of Montreal? Born and raised in St. Thomas, outside London, Dr. Atkinson went to the University of Toronto to study medicine and then completed his residency in neurosurgery at McGill. He then trained in pediatric neurosurgery at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, which is affiliated with the University of Utah, returning to Montreal to begin working in 2003. 

The seed of neurosurgery may have been planted years before, however. Growing up near London, the name ‘Charles Drake’ was familiar throughout the region, and beyond. Best known for his work on treating aneurysms, Dr. Drake was Chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Western Ontario. His work through the years brought him the distinction of Officer of the Order of Canada and he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. “He was a very famous neurosurgeon when I was growing up, so I’ve kind of heard about neurosurgery a lot my whole life,” Dr. Atkinson said. 

Patiently awaiting Dr. Atkinson’s return to McGill was Jean-Pierre Farmer, MDCM, then Administrative Director of the residency program, now head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the McGill University Health Centre, and immediate past Surgeon-in-Chief at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. At the time, Dr. Farmer was forming a team of talented pediatric surgeons which today includes Dr. Atkinson and Roy Dudley, MD, PhD, a specialist in epilepsy surgery, minimally invasive neurosurgery and neuroendoscopy.   

“He was very involved in my training and teaching when I was here at the hospital as a resident, learning about pediatrics. He was definitely key to me being interested in pediatric neurosurgery and in staying here. He spent a lot of effort trying to make sure that I would get a good fellowship in the U.S., be trained well, and come back to work with the kind of skills that were being sought after. He did a lot of work with me to make that happen,” Dr. Atkinson said. 

Having learned the French language in his school’s French immersion program, Dr. Atkinson was bilingual when he arrived in Montreal. “I still think there was quite a bit of a learning curve to being able to use it, but it was pretty easy in the sense that I kind of had a base to rely on. I’m happy that I work in a bilingual city, a multicultural city. It’s a very livable city, and people have a very social view of things, very tolerant in general.” 

Dr. Atkinson encourages those considering studying and working in Montreal to do so, “I’d be very supportive of a move like that. However, with the financial barriers that are being installed now, that may weigh heavily on someone’s decision.” 


Roy Dudley – On a mission to eradicate epileptic seizures at home and abroad

Jean-Pierre Farmer: The human touch behind the development of pediatric neurosurgery at McGill