Episode 188 – Dr. Chris Honey – A Brain Surgeon’s Tales of Excellence & Human Connection

“I think in entertainment, whether it’s a movie or a book – it’s the story telling. I like to learn about people and what they went through. I love the history of medicine, I love the philosophers, I love learning stuff to be smarter.” – Dr. Chris Honey

  • Dr. Chris Honey is Professor and Head of the Division of Neurosurgery at the University of British Columbia. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Toronto and his doctoral degree from Oxford University as a Canadian Rhodes Scholar. He completed his Royal College training in neurosurgery in Vancouver in 1995 and became a diplomat of the American Board of Neurological Surgeons in 2000. He has completed an additional year of training at Harvard Medical School and is a Scholar in Surgical Leadership.
  • His research is focused on the treatment of movement disorders and pain. He headed the world’s first trial of DBS for spasmodic dysphonia and published the results in 2021. He was the first physician to recognize and successfully treat hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm (HELPS syndrome) in 2014. He discovered and successfully treated the first person in the world with VANCOUVER syndrome in 2019. He has made fundamental changes to the understanding of human pain pathways.
  • In this episode, get a first-hand listen to some of the ways in which Chris’ entire medical perspective expanded through his experiences with patients, both personally and culturally. Patrick and Chris very briefly touch into the politics of medicine in British Columbia but don’t hang out there very long before they get into the delicate nature of brain surgery, the medical discoveries Chris and his team have pioneered, what and who compelled Chris to write his book, his superpower, and his kryptonite! Chris feels brain surgery was his calling and it’s certainly evident in the passion and knowledge he brings to the conversation and his ongoing work. In deep appreciation of excellence, Chris expresses the joy for the team he now works with, shares his journey in athletics and the shift he has made from competitor to collaborator.
  • Dr. Honey’s book, The Tenth Nerve, published by Penguin Random House Canada, is now available at Indigo, local bookstores and drchrishoney.com. It is an homage to seven patients who taught him more about medicine than any lecture or textbook.
  • Show Notes
  • [00:42] Patrick introduces his next TEDM guest, Dr. Chris Honey.
  • [01:47] Chris and Patrick kick off with Chris’ impressive bio condensed to the most straightforward explanation – he’s a brain surgeon. Chris shares his book title and who inspired him to write it. “The Tenth Nerve: A Brain Surgeon’s Stories of the Patients Who Changed Him.”
  • [03:25] Chris opens up a bit more about how the patients who inspired his book came to him, the symptoms they presented, and how he and his team were able to help. Their stories profoundly changed Chris and his knowledge of medicine.
  • [08:42] The outcome of these cases also significantly helped Chris to realize and return to Hippocrates’ guidance – listen to the patient, they will tell you what’s wrong. He goes on to explain the challenge with the business of medicine where high volume is financially remunerated. It just doesn’t allow fee for service physicians to take the time they need to truly be with patients.
  • [12:05] Chris recounts another story where his understanding of medicine was completely changed by treating a child in West Africa in a way that supported the culture and society, he was in.
  • [16:42] In current western culture, it’s far more common for “superiors” to be questioned whereas in the past it was not acceptable. Chris views this as good and at times safer to have those layers of checkpoints. If embraced, it also serves as a lesson in humility.
  • [18:56] Interestingly, Chris explains that the culture of safety in medicine now is taken from the airline industry.
  • [21:11] Patrick and Chris briefly discuss the politics of medicine and healthcare particularly in British Columbia overall and in specific scenarios.
  • [27:57] Chris shares the delicate nature of brain biopsies and surgery.
  • [29:34] Brain surgery as a calling. Chris describes how his reasons morphed and changed as he grew and matured, but he knew from the age of 11 that brain surgery was his path.
  • [33:12] Chris explains how his team is comprised and the most common surgery they are working on currently which he introduced in British Columbia for people with Parkinson’s disease. As you might expect, this requires an exceptional team.
  • [36:00] Built-in mentorship and education is a fundamental part of the medical profession and Chris talks about his 15 years of training and continuing education both that he has undertaken and now also imparts, teaches, and trains.
  • [37:45] In addition to the medical discovery Chris spoke about at the beginning of the conversation, he explains some of the other conditions they have found treatments for. One in particular, a neurogenic cough that he and his team discovered (so they also got to name.) VANCOUVER Syndrome.
  • [44:15] So what compelled Chris to write his book? There are a variety of interesting reasons, all of which thread through humanity and human nature.
  • [47:15] Chris discusses undertaking self-advocacy for our health. It’s necessary and so important to gain knowledge from reputable sources and acknowledges the challenge that speaking for our health can sometimes present in the medical community.
  • [51:16] Chris acknowledges his team and the extreme appreciation and joy he feels to work with them. It wasn’t always this way, but with time, experience, humility, and maturity he better understands what his role truly is and how crucial it is to work with the right people.
  • [54:26] As a surgeon it can be a difficult process to develop that team who meshes and orchestrates excellence in working together. In his role he can’t fire an incompetent person like a business owner could, so he must set an environment which attracts and rewards the best of the best.
  • [58:11] It takes a very particular personality to be attracted to the field of medicine, and a pretty strong sense of purpose.
  • [60:15] Learning is his superpower so what is Chris’ kryptonite?
  • [61:01] Sports are his psychological release so Chris shares how that’s morphed over the years and the excellence he’s also achieved in that part of his life!
  • [61:58] Philosophical shifts, and conscious thought processes for the multi-faceted person who is Chris. From competitor to collaborator.
  • [63:49] Guidance on taking care of our brains. Continuous learning is a good place to start. Read a book, watch a movie, learn an instrument, talk with someone in another specialty. Stay physically fit to maintain mental fitness. Get out and stay active. Long walks, especially with others, are a great activity especially as we age, to encourage human connection.
  • [71:06] Patrick offers a little positive feedback to Dr. Chris!
  • [72:14] Let’s take a stroll then, over to the rapid fire. Apple or Android; impactful book; classical favourites for an experience in the operating room; favourite movies; room-desk-car.
  • [75:12] Chris’ gratitude.
  • Connect with Dr. Chris Honey
  • Website

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