Understanding the value of relationships came early for Dr. John Yoo.
First formed while playing competitive hockey and soccer, that belief developed further during his medical studies as he witnessed the importance of the relationship between patients and physicians, as well as among health-care teams.
“If there is anything I have learned during my life, it’s that relationships matter,” said the internationally renowned surgeon. “As colleagues and leaders, our job is to help identify mutual interests, foster collaborations and forge partnerships.”
That philosophy will continue on as Yoo prepares to step into his new role as Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western officials announced today.
Currently, Yoo serves Western as Interim Chair/Chief of the Department of Paediatrics, as Fellowship Director for the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, and as a Professor of Otolaryngology and Oncology. Prior to these roles, he served as Chair/Chief of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery for 10 years.
Yoo begins his new role as Dean on May 1.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Yoo and his family immigrated to Canada when he was young. They settled in Sault Ste. Marie located at the heart of the Great Lakes.
“The Soo was a wonderful place to grow up. It was about as typically ‘Northern Ontario’ as you can imagine,” he said.
Much of his childhood centered on family, sports and a distant dream to become a professional hockey player. “People sometimes asked me if I ever considered a career in hockey. I did. But three reasons stopped me from pursuing it – talent, talent, and talent.”
After high school, Yoo headed to the University of Toronto where he pursued two years of undergraduate studies, his medical degree and residency. A test of sorts for the then-aspiring physician, he said choosing U of T meant stepping out of his comfort zone.
Following his training, Yoo joined Schulich where he was soon appointed to a leadership role.
Yoo developed a reputation for making positive change by creating key partnerships and developing collaborations, recruiting the best people, creating the right environment, and supporting teams by encouraging them to focus on a shared vision.
In the operating room, he pioneered surgical techniques in reconstructive surgery for people with facial paralysis and disfigurement caused by head and neck cancer. As a clinical leader, he serves as the Fellowship Director of Head and Neck Oncology and Reconstructive Surgery and is the Co-chair of the London Facial Nerve Clinic.
Fiercely committed to research, Yoo advanced his own program while expanding the platform within Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery throughout his tenure as Chair/Chief.
Meanwhile, his commitment to learners was recognized through numerous teaching awards and acknowledgements.
Today, in addition to his academic, leadership and clinical roles, Yoo serves as the Co-chair of Cancer Care Ontario Head and Neck Cancer Disease Site; President-elect of the Canadian Association of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology; and an Executive Board Member with the Canadian Association of Otolaryngology and Asia-Pacific Society of Thyroid Surgery. He was also the longest-serving Chair of the Canadian Chairs of Otolaryngology.
Western President Alan Shepard said Yoo’s hiring signals great things for the university.
“In choosing Dr. Yoo as our next Dean, we’ve appointed a highly accomplished surgeon and academic leader whose intelligence, drive and collaborative style will help elevate our medical and dental school to the next level,” Shepard said.
With his first 100 days in sight, Yoo has what he describes as “a valuable perspective of the organization,” but he is also aware of the need to learn more. As an internal appointee, he wants to be careful not to suffer from biases that can arise from an incomplete picture of the whole.
He said he looks forward to understanding the school more deeply by meeting as many people as he can.
Yoo also wants to fight his instincts as a surgeon to try and fix things too quickly.
“What leadership has taught me is ‘don’t think like a surgeon’ – at least not all the time,” he said.
“I’m excited about the incredible talent and capacity of our faculty, learners and the community. I’m excited I will be in a position to advocate and promote the amazing things that our school does. I’m excited by the opportunity we have to be the living example for the world of how a faculty of medicine and dentistry can play a central role within an integrated community of research, education and clinical excellence.”
For Yoo, getting there means having a plan.
It’s a plan, he stressed, that will focus on a strong alignment between the school and its hospital partners; on a reaffirmation of the school’s commitment to be a top-tier research-intensive organization; on increased collaboration between departments and faculties; on a reconnection with clinical faculty; on strengthening the relationship within the school’s distributed network; and on prioritizing the dentistry program.
It’s also a plan that will equip learners with skills to be the best researchers and health-care providers, Yoo said.
He continued, “Our learners are immersed in a data-driven, algorithm-directed, automation-of-care world. We need to provide them with the experiences to be inspired by the human element of care who approach the patient-caregiver relationship with humility, respect and compassion.”
It will also mean harnessing the school’s unique attributes to move into the future.
“We are part of an incredibly powerful, diverse and dynamic health-care environment while having an ethos of community spirit like no other place in Canada. I care deeply about what happens here and the future we will create together for each other and successive generations of faculty, staff and learners.”
Yoo follows former Dr. Michael J. Strong to the position when strong became the President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in October 2018. Dr. Davy Cheng has served as Acting Dean since Strong’s departure.