Remembering Dr. Bernard Langer (Royal College Past-President)
Bernard “Bernie” Langer, OC, MD, FRCSC, President of the Royal College from 2000 to 2002, was a brilliant and visionary physician, scholar and educator. He is remembered with near reverence as a world pioneer in hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery, for his contributions to clinician-investigator training and for his prodigious body of scholarly work, which spanned a 30-year career. Dr. Langer died February 23, 2022, in Toronto. He was 89.
“Bernie Langer was a Canadian surgical icon. As chair of the Department of Surgery at University of Toronto he was instrumental in transforming the department through his support of research in academic practice. He did the first liver transplant in Toronto and was world renowned as a hepato-biliary surgeon,” says Royal College President Richard K. Reznick, MD, FRCSC, FACS, FRCSEd (hon), FRCSI (hon), FRCS (hon).
He continues, “He was a mentor and teacher to hundreds of Canadian surgeons, including me, and very much influenced their careers. As President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Bernie was a strong leader. He advanced the Royal College’s mission, especially in our program that supports academic training during residency.”
A pioneering surgeon and educator
Born in Toronto in 1932, Dr. Langer received his medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1956. He followed this with postgraduate surgical training in Toronto, at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, and at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He joined the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto in 1961. In 1972, he became head of surgery and he chaired the Division of General Surgery from 1982 to 1989. From 1982 to 1992, he was Colonel R. S. McLaughlin Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery.
With clinical interests focused on diseases of the liver, bilary tract and pancreas, Dr. Langer and his research group developed seminal research in areas such as immunotherapy for gastrointestinal malignancies, total parental nutrition at home, treatment of portal hypertension, and liver and small bowel transplantation. Among his most profound contributions was his role in developing the Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery Unit and Liver Transplantation Program at the University of Toronto, which is today among the largest transplant programs in the world.
In 1983, Dr. Langer was instrumental in the creation of the University of Toronto’s revolutionary Surgeon Scientist Program, which provides research training to surgical residents interested in careers in academic medicine. The program, which established Toronto as a centre for research excellence, became a model for clinician-investigation training in Canada and the envy of countries around the world. This aspect of Dr. Langer’s work has influenced generations of surgeons in multiple countries.
Dr. Langer and the Royal College
A Royal College Fellow since 1961, Dr. Langer served on Council from 1988 to 1996. He was an energetic committee worker, chairing the Committee on Specialties and, of course, the Clinician-Scientist Program Implementation Committee. As Royal College President, Dr. Langer’s expertise in clinician-investigation training was instrumental in creating a new training stream called the Clinician Investigator Program in 2001. The program has been taken up by universities across Canada and led to the formation of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute in 2003. As President, Dr. Langer was also active in health care policy. He oversaw the Royal College’s presentation of submissions to the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada in 2001 and 2002.
Dr. Langer authored or co-authored more than 174 papers and 29 book chapters throughout his career, travelled widely as visiting professor to university centres around the world, and lectured often at international scientific meetings. He also served on the editorial boards of many scientific journals.
Dr. Langer remained professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Department of Surgery after retiring from medicine in 1992. Among his many honours, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002. He was also the 1999 recipient of Royal College’s Duncan Graham Award for Outstanding Contribution to Medical Education. Queen’s University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2014, and Dr. Langer became a Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Laureate in 2015.
“If you don’t stand tall enough, you won’t see far enough.”
—Dr. Bernard Langer