When asked what he does, Dr. George Pylypchuk, Acting Unified Head of the Department of Medicine, compares his role to that of a conductor in the orchestra.
“In my department, I don’t play the tunes, I’m the conductor. Just like musicians who play different instruments in the symphony, the physicians I work with specialize in a variety of fields. It’s my job to keep everybody working in harmony so that we can move towards our common goal of achieving excellent health care,” says Dr. Pylypchuk.
Dr. George Pylypchuk
As the unified head of the Department of Medicine for Saskatoon Health Region and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), Dr. Pylypchuk is responsible for administering the clinical, academic and research activities in more than 10 medical specialty divisions, ranging from cardiology to general internal medicine and neurology, to name a few. For example, on the clinical side, he ensures that quality standards are maintained and that the city’s three acute care hospitals have adequate physician coverage to meet patient demand. On the academic side, he ensures that clinical teachers are available to train medical students and residents and that departmental research is supported.
“I have really enjoyed this position, because I like interacting with people,” says Dr. Pylypchuk. “People are fascinating to me. The issues that come up daily are all unique and complex, and that’s what keeps this job interesting. A lot of people don’t like this position because they say there’s too much stress. There is a lot of stress, but it’s a fascinating job, and you get to work with the whole spectrum of people: families, patients, nurses, administrative staff, government and public health. I really enjoy it, especially as my colleagues have been so supportive.”
On April 1, Dr. Pylypchuk will hand over the reins to Dr. Sam Haddad, who will become the permanent unified head of the Department of Medicine. Prior to accepting the position of acting head, Dr. Pylypchuk was the Region’s Vice President of Practitioner Staff Affairs and Senior Medical Officer, a role he is returning to in April.
“A senior medical officer’s job is to ensure that hospital bylaws are followed. It involves physician engagement, investigation and discipline,” says Dr. Pylypchuk. “The vice president piece is operational; it’s working with other vice presidents to ensure that physicians work in concert with our operations. It also looks at how we can improve health care and prepare ourselves for the demographic changes that are coming. Currently, our main emphasis is patient flow, and quality and safety initiatives.”
In addition to his role as vice president, Dr. Pylypchuk has held a number of administrative roles throughout his career, including department head of medicine and division head of nephrology, member of the St. Paul’s Hospital Board of Directors and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, and director of the Home Hemodialysis Program for Saskatchewan.
In 2015, he retired from his clinical nephrology practice, where he worked as a kidney specialist for 40 years. In his 40-year career, Dr. Pylypchuk, often referred to as Dr. P, says he is most proud that, “I always tried to put the patient first and to do my best for the patient.
“I’m also proud that we’ve been able to further develop our nationally respected renal unit at St. Paul’s Hospital and to centralize all of the in-patient kidney services in the Region at one site. These developments have allowed us to expand from three kidney specialists, including myself, to more than a dozen over the years.”
Dr. Pylypchuk immigrated to Canada from Germany as an infant, and speaks fondly of his years growing up in Moose Jaw. He studied medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and completed his post-graduate residency in Michigan, Saskatoon and Toronto. He returned to Saskatoon in 1976 and started his nephrology practice. In addition to spending time with his six children and seven grand-children, he likes to play golf, go fishing, skating and skiing, ballroom dance and read historical non-fiction.
“I love sports, and I try to do as much as I can of anything and everything in spite of my age,” says Dr. Pylypchuk.
He has also recently taken an interest in photography, “just in case I retire someday,” he says with a chuckle.