HomeLocalLocal NewsWinnipeg’s first certified pediatric surgical specialist easing into retirement

Winnipeg’s first certified pediatric surgical specialist easing into retirement

By MYRON LOVE According to that venerable Chinese sage Confucius, “a man who loves what he is doing never works a day in his life.”
That maxim aptly describes Dr. Nathan Wiseman to a tee (no pun intended for an individual who is also an ardent golfer).

But even for a man so enthusiastic about his work that he changed “TGIF” (thank goodness it’s Friday) to “TGIM” (Monday), his surgical career has drawn to an end. Winnipeg’s first ever certified pediatric surgical specialist has begun the process of easing into retirement.
On Friday, October 7, his medical colleagues, nurses, family, friends and some grateful patients attended a retirement party for the beloved children’s surgeon who is retiring from full time service at Children’s Hospital after an association spanning almost half a century.
The event was held at the Manitoba Club. “It was a lovely evening,” says the guest of honour. “I had a wonderful time and it was heartening to see so many colleagues who were my teammates as we looked after children together.” He notes that he himself delivered a speech that went on for more than half an hour. “I had so much to say, so many people to thank, most of all my wonderful wife, Eva. I couldn’t have done it without her wholehearted support and understanding through the years.” 

That is because Nathan Wiseman was a throwback to the doctors of yore, doctors who were constantly on call 24 hours a day. “I used to have trouble finishing a round of golf as I would get calls while on the course,” he recalls. “Even when we were away on holiday, I might still receive the occasional call. We were in Hawaii once when I got a call from a colleague who wanted me to operate on his daughter. He was prepaired to wait until I returned and did the surgery right after we got back.”
A fourth generation Winnipegger who grew up in West Kildonan, the son of the late Sam and Cecilia (Cissie) Wiseman says that he was inspired to pursue a career in medicine in general and pediatric surgery specifically by the examples of his own pediatrician, Dr. Harry Medovy as well as popular north Winnipeg pediatrician Dr. Percy Barsky. 
There was also the influence of his peer group. “A lot of my friends were oriented towards medical careers,” he recalls.
Wiseman was accepted into the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine in 1964 when he was still 19. “I was the youngest of 70 students in my class,” he says.
While enrolled in medicine – during the summers – he had the opportunity to work on a research project with Dr. Colin Ferguson, the city’s leading pediatric surgeon, who became the young Wiseman’s mentor and role model.
Wiseman completed his general medical degree in 1968 and then proceeded to specialize in pediatric surgery – a journey that took him to Boston Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard University. On his return to Winnipeg in 1975, he became our city’s first certified pediatric surgeon.

“I had to go to Vancouver to take the certification exam,” he notes “Colin Ferguson went with me. He was my examiner and it was the first year the exam was offered.”

Up to that point, he explains, surgery on children was performed by general surgeons who took an interest in children. “But there are many specific surgical conditions for which children require a specialist’s approach.”

In an excerpt about her husband in her book “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians,” Eva Wiseman notes that Nathan served as head of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at the Children’s Hospital for 14 years. He also taught medical students and surgical residents, did clinical research, published widely and served as President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons. He was also an examiner of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and was a governor of the American College of Surgeons. 
In recent years, Wiseman’s workload has been lessened with the addition of several more pediatric surgeons at the Children’s Hospital; there are six in total now. Wiseman says that he appreciates that he had opportunity to encounter a much wider range of uncommon children’s medical problems than do pediatric surgeons working in larger numbers who spread the load more broadly.

Wiseman notes that he has performed tens of thousands of surgeries of all kinds over the years at Children’s Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital. He especially enjoyed doing surgery on tiny newborn infants. He also found that surgery for malignancies in children was challenging and rewarding. On top of all that he did more than 20,000 circumcisions. He relates that he often runs into former patients – now adults – or parents of former patients – who come up to him to express their gratitude for surgeries he did years before.
While he has continued his practice longer than most – if not all of his contemporaries – and he still retains his vigour and strength (presumably his many years on the links have helped) as he nears 80 (not his golf score), he says the it was time to retire. 
“A dear friend of mine – who died too young – once remarked that the longer you continue too work- the less time you will have left after you stop working,” Wiseman observed.
Not that Wiseman is walking away entirely- at least not yet. He reports that he will still be going into the hospital from time to time should he be needed – and that he is working in his daughter’s clinic for a few hours a week.

(Dr. Marni Wise-man- one of 23 doctors in the Wiseman extended family- is a dermatologist and medical director of SkinWise dermatology. Nathan is also proud of his son Sam, who is a Professor of Surgery at the University of British Columbia.)

With more free time, Nathan Wiseman is looking forward to more time for golf and travel with Eva. He is considering writing his own light-hearted book provisionally titled “Memoir of a Paediatric Surgical Curmudgeon.”

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