Calendar of Events
SPP Spring Virtual Meeting
March 12-14, 2021
Perinatal Pathology Course is Going Virtual!
April 8-11, 2021
SPP 2021 Fall Meeting
October 5-10, 2021, Portland, Oregon, USA
2022 Spring Meeting
March 16-21, 2022, Los Angeles, California, USA
Editorial TeamDr. David Parham, Editor-in-Chief
Interview with the President by Editor D. ParhamAugust 21, 2020
From your reception speech, I note that you were born in Antwerp, Belgium.
What was your life like in Antwerp? Did your parents work as physicians?
I only lived there during my early life from 1966 to 1969, so I only remember bits and pieces. I remember a lot of cobblestone roads. The only time I have been back was in 2003, when I visited with extended family. I have 3 siblings: 2 brothers and 1 sister.
My Dad worked as an engineer for Shell and moved around a lot, precipitating our move to Tasmania for 2 years and then Shepparton, Australia. My Mom was a secretary. Although I showed photos of myself as a child artist and equestrian, I don’t continue to paint or draw or to ride horses as a hobby.
What caused the move to Shepparton? What was life like there?
I lived there from age 5 to age 18. When we moved, my Dad changed jobs and began advising farmers on use of chemicals. My Mom became a manager for Dad’s company.
Do you still play cricket?
It is still my passion, and I continue to follow Australian’s team. I played the game through my university years. Although it can last for days, each game is strategic like a chess match. I find listening to the games to be meditative and relaxing.
What precipitated the move to Melbourne? What was life like there?
I moved to Melbourne for med school, which in Australia is a 6-year program, unlike the pre-med college studies that you have in the U.S. In Australia this includes 3 years of pre-med and 3 years of clerkship. I became interested in pathology during my 4th year. I had 3 pathology lectures and 1 organ practical lab each week. Besides pathology, I had 3 subjects that really inspired me: gross anatomy, microscopic anatomy, and surgery. I was always more interested in structure than function. Pathology seemed to be where it all came together, and with surgery, I was seeing living anatomy, the effects of pathologic processes, and the importance of good margins.
Who inspired you to take up pediatric pathology?
After I graduated in the early 1990s, C.W. Chow, the head of pathology at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, took an interest in me. I was looking for good combined PhD program, and he took me under his wing for learning about medical research and setting my foundation in pediatric pathology. During this time, I studied the molecular biology of neural crest tumors, particularly neuroblastoma, by doing gene cloning. This was done prior to the Human Genome Project, so it involved a lot of novel research. I was particularly interested in cloning membrane receptors.
Were there other early influences on your career choice?
My Dad, who always encouraged me to study science. He was the first person in his family to go to college, and he had a high regard for learning. He always said, “One thing they can’t take away is education”. He considered all of my choices in science careers and then decided that medicine offered the best job security.
What precipitated your move to Sick Children’s Hospital?
I went there from Royal Children’s Hospital in order to get fellowship training, and then I stayed on. Glenn Taylor offered me a position and encouraged me to stay, and I have been here for the past 17 years. Glenn was amazing, I think one of best all-around pathologists, with incredible knowledge and outstanding microscopic ability. He was my role model, and I strive to be like him. Paul Thorner taught me about the scientific method, how to write papers, and how to get grants. With his groundbreaking work in pediatric lung disease, Ernest Cutz was also a huge inspiration. David Chiasson is still active here as a senior pathologist in autopsy and cardiac pathology. He performs the coroner’s cases, and it is inspirational the way he puts cases together.
What happened to the other pathologists?
Glenn stepped down in 2013 and retired in 2015 and moved to Vancouver Island. Paul and Ernest retired in 2019, soon after Glenn in 2018.
Are your parents still living?
Yes, both of my parents are retired and still living in Shepparton. My siblings live nearby.
Tell me about your own family.
My wife Joanne is a nurse and worked in the coronary care center, caring for postoperative cardiac patients. I met her while rotating there. I have two children, Ben and Isabel. Ben has almost finished his engineering degree. Isabel wants to be a rehabilitation therapist for kids; Being with my family is like having Christmas every day!
What are your goals for the SPP, and how has the pandemic affected them?
I want to develop a clear set of goals and objectives, with particular detail in finances and management. In particular, I would like to improve communication between the Executive Committee, the Committee Chairs, and the Council. I want to make time to talk to all committee chairs and to improve our communication with our management group Kellen, for smoother Society operations. I would like to improve our membership roles, which have been static for the past few years.
The major impact of COVID-19 has been on meetings and conferences. We now have to face the challenges of virtual meeting, with no opportunities for social opportunities. However, having virtual meetings may improve attendance by giving opportunities for participation of people who normally can’t attend. This also creates opportunities to improve our exposure and status in the medical community and general populace.
I commend you for your recent SPP email taking a stand on racism in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. What are your thoughts on racism and its impact on pediatric pathology and the SPP?
I am not personally aware of issues or exclusions in our Society, but being a white male, I may not have the right perspective to notice problems. The SPP and pediatric pathology offer ways to study and to address the ramifications of racism, particularly inequities in prenatal care, delivery, and postnatal life.
Tell us about your most recent projects and findings.
In spite of the pandemic, I still go to work on most days, but like most of us, my academic output has been curtailed. I am working on better testing for pediatric sarcomas via next generation sequencing, in particular ways to improve the efficiency of genetic diagnosis. I am also interested in prevention of burnout, particularly as it affects people early in their career. Pathology is challenging and humbling.
Anything else you want to talk about before we conclude?
Every presidency has its own challenges, and I guess instituting virtual meetings is my challenge. We had been planning for it eventually, but not so suddenly. It has definitely been put on “fast forward”!
About the Authors
Gino Somers, MBBS, PhD, FRCPASPP President
Hospital for Sick Children
Toronto, ON, Canada