ASRA Pain Medicine News, February 2024

Interview with the 2024 Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Dr. Colin J. McCartney

Feb 8, 2024, 04:00 AM by Adeeb Oweidat, MD, DESAIC, EDRA

Cite as: Oweidat A. Interview with the 2024 Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Dr. Colin J. McCartney. ASRA Pain Medicine News 2024;49.


Adeeb Oweidat: You are recognized as an exceptional leader, clinician, and researcher within the field of anesthesiology and regional anesthesia and acute pain. Can you outline your journey? What personal qualities or characteristics have been most important along the way? How did you decide to focus on regional anesthesia and acute pain?

Colin J. McCartney: First, it is an honor to be one of the 2024 recipients of the DSA given some of the great names that have won this award in the past.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my career to work with some great mentors and colleagues, who have helped me significantly in my own success. Without those individuals I would not have had the success I have had in my own career.

I was very fortunate to be born into a family with parents who supported my education and gave me the confidence to try. Life is a journey of failures and successes, and my mum, in particular, was a great support in allowing me to develop a “fail forward” mindset.

I studied medicine at Edinburgh University and trained in anesthesia and pain medicine in Scotland before coming to the University of Toronto for a fellowship in regional anesthesia and pain medicine with Dr. Vincent Chan and colleagues in 1999. I developed an interest in pain medicine early in my anesthetic career and slowly branched from chronic pain to acute pain and regional anesthesia especially as I started to understand the importance of good early pain control on recovery and its impact on reducing the development of chronic pain. Two papers especially influenced my thinking. “Cut and thrust, antecedent surgery and trauma among patients attending a chronic pain clinic” by Crombie et al1 and Joel Katz’s editorial on post amputation pain in The Lancet2 underlined the importance of surgical injury on chronic pain development. I had the good fortune of working with Bill Macrae as a trainee in Dundee and then with Joel Katz as one of my mentors after I started working in Toronto.

I came on staff at Toronto Western Hospital in 2000 and became the director of the regional fellowship program in 2003. At Toronto Western Dr. Chan was starting to investigate the potential for ultrasound in regional anesthesia, and I was fortunate to be able to join his team during an exciting period of new discovery. Armed with that expertise, in 2006 I moved to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto to help build a research team in regional anesthesia and acute pain. Through working with a great department and other valuable mentors, including Drs Joel Katz and Beverley Orser, I further developed my leadership skills.

In 2014 I was asked to apply to the chair position at University of Ottawa in Canada, and I held that role until 2022 when I returned to Sunnybrook and University of Toronto as chief of anesthesia.

In terms of personal characteristics, I have had great good fortune in some of the opportunities that I have been offered. However, I believe some of the characteristics that have helped my success include having a willingness to change and explore new opportunities, finding great mentors and colleagues that want to work in a productive and positive team environment, keeping a positive attitude even when things don’t seem to be succeeding especially in the short term, and finally and possibly most important is investing in my relationships and health (especially those closest to me including my wife and children) so that I retain the energy to engage in interesting opportunities.

AO: In your view, which aspects of your work have been most impactful to clinical practice and to the ASRA Pain Medicine community?

CJM: The work that we did as a team at Toronto Western Hospital between 1999-2006 and then at Sunnybrook between 2007-2014 impacted the clinical practice of regional anesthesia and over a period of ten years (with several other groups across the world), helped to change the gold standard for nerve location from nerve stimulation to ultrasound guidance.

For the ASRA Pain Medicine community, I have been involved in several leadership roles over the last 25 years. I first became involved by volunteering and joining the newsletter committee and subsequently chaired that committee. I have also chaired the research committee, the Gaston Labat Award committee, and the CME committee. I was a member of the ASRA Board of Directors from 2012-2018 and was an editorial board member and then editor of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. Dr. Reva Ramlogan and I founded the Education in Regional Anesthesia SIG.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work with many other great colleagues who have helped advance ASRA Pain Medicine.

AO: Which of your studies has had the most impact and why?

CJM: Our most highly cited paper is actually the review that Dr. Ricky Brull, Dr. Hossam El-Beheiry, and I did in 2007 titled “Neurological complications of regional anesthesia: contemporary estimates of risk” published in Anesthesia and Analgesia. Ricky and Hossam were the key reasons for the success of this paper, Ricky for doing much of the work of reviewing the papers and Hossam for his statistical expertise. I’m a little surprised at how many times this paper has been cited, but I think it may have had lasting impact because as regional specialists we always (unfairly in my opinion) have to justify the choice of regional anesthesia over general anesthesia. Our paper helped quantify the relatively low added risk associated with regional anesthesia, especially when the significant benefits are considered.

AO: You have an incredible, prolific social media and online presence. It may be said that you are one of the few "influencers" within our field. How did you grow your social media presence? What do you aim to achieve as an influencer? How do you see your virtual presence evolving as media and technologies evolve?

CJM: It has been a real pleasure to interact with other like-minded colleagues on a variety of platforms including those that are in-person and virtual. Social media (including Twitter/X) has been a lot of fun and a great education for me. I try to occasionally post interesting articles or information and join in interesting debates regarding regional anesthesia, but I learn a lot from reading the posts of others. One of the key roles of an academic physician is to discover and disseminate new knowledge. In that regard social media is just one more tool that allows us to disseminate that knowledge, and I regard social media as an important new tool. It is amazing to see the great work of others, such as Jeff Gadsden, Ed Mariano, Amit Pawa, and many others, who have taken online education to the next level on social media.

AO: How do you define success?

CJM: I love the quote ascribed to Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Seriously, success is a very personal thing. For me it means having the time and health to be able to contribute to caring for patients and developing and sharing new knowledge. As part of that, I try to strike a balance between working hard but also spending time with family and friends and time for exercise, eating, and sleeping well. In my own life, I have tried to invest in my closest relationships (my wife, children, and family) because they provide the foundation for everything else I have been able to do.

AO: What has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

CJM: Personally, seeing my three children grow into wonderful responsible adults, who are adding in a positive way to the world.

Professionally, caring for patients in a way that I would want for my own family. The leadership roles that I have held are an extension of that and have allowed me to work with teams of great people that make my job hugely enjoyable and a real privilege.

AO: Which individuals have been important to you as mentors or sponsors? What did they do that impacted you and your career?

CJM: I have been very fortunate to have had several great mentors in my career, including Dr. Robert Wood in Scotland, Drs. Joel Katz and Beverley Orser in Toronto, Dr. Jack Kitts in Ottawa, and Dr. Joe Neal at ASRA Pain Medicine. However, the person who made the greatest impact was Dr. Vincent Chan. I first worked with Vincent as a fellow in 1999, and over many years he has consistently challenged me to ask questions, perform studies to answer those questions, and then teach others. Vincent was the ideal mentor and sponsor. He was supportive and kind, thought of others before himself, and constantly challenged me (and many others) to improve what we did daily. Finally, he was always the person to lead from the front in the way he cared for his own patients, in his intellectual curiosity and in his teaching.

AO: What drives your professional curiosity?

CJM: Although I have had the experience of both preclinical and clinical research, I have most enjoyed clinical research that has the ability to directly improve the care of patients. Two areas really piqued my interest: the use of ultrasound to improve effectiveness and reduce side effects of regional anesthesia and interventions to reduce the risk of acute and chronic pain after surgery.

AO: Can you describe one or more of the most difficult professional challenges you have had in your career? How did you overcome it/them?

CJM: My greatest professional challenges have come in two environments, clinically and as a leader. In the clinical environment, I have always enjoyed working in demanding environments, and Sunnybrook is definitely one of those with a very busy trauma and cancer program. Occasionally I’ll be involved in a very challenging clinical case where things have not gone as well as hoped. In those situations, I lean on my wife and close colleagues for feedback and support.

In my leadership roles, the greatest area of challenge for me is communication. I am an introvert by nature, so I have to be purposeful in my efforts to communicate with others. At the same time, I like to move forward quickly but have to be careful that the team is also supporting me. Communication is vital at these times to maintain trust. A leader without followers is no longer a leader!

AO: As you look back, has there been a defining moment in your career? If so, can you describe it?

CJM: The defining moment in my career was moving to Toronto, Canada in 1999. I was fortunate to have great training in Scotland that gave me the foundation for success. However, coming to Toronto allowed me to work with brilliant minds and in an environment that elevated my practice and goals. My association with ASRA Pain Medicine has done the same, working with like-minded talented colleagues who are generous with their time, friendship, and resources. The University of Toronto department of anesthesia and ASRA Pain Medicine have been the two organizations that have facilitated my career success.

AO: Do you have advice to offer current trainees or early career professionals who seek to become leaders in regional anesthesia and acute pain medicine?

CJM: My first piece of advice would be to follow your passion. For me that was investigating and providing the best pain relief care for my patients and disseminating that knowledge to other colleagues. My second piece of advice is don’t be frightened to move to explore new opportunities. For me coming to Toronto allowed me to find an environment that allowed me to flourish. In 1999 I actually did not want to move to Canada, but it was my wife, Linda, who persuaded me that it would be a good opportunity. I am grateful to her for many things, but that is one of the more important ones.

AO: How much of your success would you attribute to hard work, and how much would you attribute to luck or other circumstances?

CJM: I have been very fortunate in my career, but I strongly believe that you “make your own luck,” and to be “lucky” you need to take calculated risks and explore new opportunities. In addition, to work with (and lead) great teams of people, trust must be built and that can only happen by putting others before yourself. People who trust you will be more willing to work with you and include you in their own ideas and initiatives. Finally, I am also aware that I have had much privilege in my life: to be born into a family that supported and loved me and to have the education I received. To work with other great people who saw my potential and gave me opportunities, and finally, to work in an environment where equity, diversity, and inclusivity are valued.

AO: What do you love about your job?

CJM: I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to combine caring for patients and working with great teams of people to provide care for those patients, teaching others and bringing new knowledge to our specialty and profession. Ultimately, I love working with people, and I am fortunate in my career to be able to do that every day.

Adeeb Oweidat
Adeeb Oweidat, MD, DESAIC, EDRA, is an assistant professor of anesthesiology in the department of anesthesiology and pain management at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City.


  1. Crombie IK, Davies HT, Macrae WA. Cut and thrust: antecedent surgery and trauma among patients attending a chronic pain clinic. Pain 1998;76(1-2):167-71.
  2. Katz J. Prevention of phantom limb pain by regional anesthesia. Lancet 1997;22: 519-20.
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