Get to know our new vice-president of Research and Innovation: Dr. Ori Rotstein

By Ana Gajic      

May 1, 2019 – Dr. Ori Rotstein, previously the surgeon-in-chief of St. Michael’s Hospital and the director of the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science (KRCBS), starts his new role as vice-president of Research and Innovation at Unity Health Toronto today.

Dr. Rotstein is also a scientist at the KRCBS, and his research focus centres around inflammation and the body’s response to hemorrhagic shock or getting a low blood pressure. Dr. Rotstein’s research group aims to find new therapies by better understanding how shock resuscitation or ischemia reperfusion injures organs.

In his new job, he’ll have oversight of research and innovation across the three sites. We sat down with Dr. Rotstein to find out more about him, his life outside of work, and what the next few months will look like.

Q. Why did you pursue a career in medicine?

I was always really interested in biology and becoming a doctor seemed like an obvious way of pursuing my interest. Also my father was a doctor – a general surgeon like me. So with an interest in biology and a family history in medicine, I pursued a medical degree.

Dr. Ori Rotstein and his wife.

Q. What first sparked your interest in research?

In my first year of university I loved physics and so I thought maybe I should change my career path and become a physicist. I told my dad that and he looked at me quizzically and asked why. And I said, “Because I want to do research.”

He told me that I should become a doctor and do research at the same time. I always thought that was prophetic – it was years before I decided my career path would be that of a clinician-scientist.

Then I had a mentor when I started my residency who was extremely enamoured with the career path of a surgeon-scientist and he really encouraged me. That’s how I did my first research project, which was on the effect of dietary fibre on gallstone formation.

At the most personal level, I love the challenge of doing research, the kinds of questions you get to ask, I love the camaraderie and the colleagues that I have. The ability to guide students and early-career researchers is also a great honour.

Q. Hundreds of publications later, what keeps you motivated to do research?

As I went further into research I realized that the biggest impact a physician could have on patients was by understanding disease, and research is a way to further your understanding of diseases.

Q. What are your priorities for the first few months of your new job?

Unity Health’s Research and Innovation enterprise will have impact through both the generation of new knowledge, and also the translation of that knowledge to patients, to our communities and globally.

While I know a lot about many aspects of the activities going on in our centre, my first few months will be spent getting to know the people (staff, students and scientists), learning about their research programs and listening to their aspirations for the future.  For me personally, I believe that this will set the stage for leading a more formal process, namely, a strategic plan for Research. This exercise will help us shape our vision together.

We have a few initiatives planned for Research to understand how to make sure our institutes are supportive and inclusive environments. First, we’re going to do a survey on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the next few months and I’m proud that Research is the first department at Unity Health that will roll this out. To improve, we have to measure first.  We will also inaugurate a new faculty development series aimed at helping our scientists to not only thrive at research, but also to develop skills to be leaders in their fields in the future.

Dr. Rotstein hiking with his family

I’ve also always been able to relate to people and have been accessible to anyone who needs support. I want people in the research community and beyond to see me as someone who is interested in what they’re doing, who they can come to, and who will help them work through challenges.

Q. What are you passionate about outside of work?

I love to travel with my family – we’re more adventure travelers, always looking for opportunities to hike and bike in new places.

I’m also a maniacal golfer. I will golf anywhere, anytime, any weather!