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Dirk Hoffman
May 9, 2024

The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences welcomed the 2024 Can-Am Clinical Anesthesia Conference to Buffalo on May 4, marking the first time the international event was held on the American side of the border.

“We have to challenge ourselves to reach beyond our city limits and demonstrate to others all of the fantastic opportunities that reside here in Buffalo. ”
Clinical professor and interim chair of anesthesiology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Founded by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1983, the conference brings together leaders in anesthesia from Canada and the United States to share cutting-edge advancements, foster collaboration and inspire transformative change.

Hands-On Decision to Resurrect Conference

The University at Buffalo traditionally participated in the event that was hosted in Niagara Falls, Canada, but the last in-person Can-Am conference was in 2019.

Stacey A. Watt, MD, MBA, clinical professor and interim chair of anesthesiology at the Jacobs School, said after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted in-person gatherings, the conference did not seem to be coming back.

She made a bold decision to act to resuscitate the conference and contacted McMaster University officials.

“I felt it was the perfect opportunity to showcase UB and allow for the American side of the Can-Am conference to have its turn,” she said.

“It has and will always be a collaborative event, bringing the best of both sides of the border together to discuss differences, similarities and share opportunities,” Watt added. “Our plan is to continue the Can-Am conference here at UB for at least the next five years, if not longer.”

Partner Institutions Provide Panelists

The 2024 conference featured moderators and panelists from partner institutions McMaster University, Albany Medical College, the University of Rochester Medical Center and Western University in Canada.

“Kudos to Dr. Stacey Watt and the Department of Anesthesia team for their exceptional work in hosting the international Can-Am Conference,” said Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School.

“Their dedication revived this event after a hiatus since 2019, bringing it to Buffalo for the first time on the American side. The conference is important to fostering collaboration across borders.”

Conference topics included:

  • Quality Improvement Panel: Brining Quality into Practice
  • Updates in Pediatric Anesthesiology: Common Pediatric Emergencies
  • Pre-Operative Optimization Planning: Policies, Protocols, and the Avoidance of Problems
  • Updates in Pain Medicine: Treating Acute Pain Inside and Out of the Operating Room
  • Updates in Cardiac Anesthesiology: Keeping Up With Innovation

The keynote address by Joshua J. Lynch, DO, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine and founder of the MATTERS opioid treatment program, was titled “Addiction in Medicine.”

Addressing Addiction in Health Care

The keynote address, titled “Addiction in Medicine,” was given by Joshua J. Lynch, DO, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the Jacobs School, and the founder of MATTERS, an innovative opioid treatment program.

Lynch said that he wanted to talk about rates of addiction in health care professionals and how it uniquely affects anesthesiology.

“Addiction has a certain level of stigma and is obviously amplified when talking about addiction in medicine,” he said.

“These people are our colleagues, but they are also suffering patients.” Lynch emphasized. “Sometimes it is heavy on us and tricky to relate those two things happening at the same time.”

Lynch mentioned a work of fiction, “The Stairs in Billy Buck Hill,” by Steven L. Orebaugh, MD, a professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Its main character is an anesthesiologist at the peak of his career who runs into problems with addiction.

“The book highlights how the smallest misstep can lead to a cascade of events that are out of control and may put someone in a position where they never thought they would be,” Lynch said.

The field of anesthesiology has some unique risk factors that set up for almost the perfect environment to develop an addiction, if it is going to happen, Lynch adds.

“Think about the work environment — working more or less by yourself, behind a sheet, with little or no supervision. It is kind of the perfect environment for it to progress unchecked for a long time,” he said. “You are also very skilled at controlling sedation and pain management for your patients, but also for yourself. That leads to a fairly dangerous trajectory.”

Overcoming Obstacles to Treatment

With appropriate treatment, many individuals go on to return to the field and lead productive and satisfying and safe careers, Lynch noted.

“Returning to work is what we want if it can happen safely. What the recovery pathway looks like will vary among individuals and institutions,” he said. “What I will say is a rush to return to work is rarely successful. It takes time, it needs to be deliberate and rushing that process almost guarantees to set you up for failure.”

Lynch said there is often a three-pronged approach to addiction treatment — counseling, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and peer groups.

“Counseling and peer groups are wraparound services,” he said. “The medication is what does the heavy lifting.”

Lynch said the MATTERS program was developed at UB to break down some of the barriers and make it easier to link people to treatment.

“It is all app-based, so linkage to treatment or requesting supplies such as free naloxone or test strips can all be done through the app,” he said. “Patients can ask for telemedicine assessments. In Western New York, those are available 24 hours a day and linkage to treatment can happen during the course of that evaluation.”

Watt said that Lynch’s address was a highlight of the conference.

“Dr. Lynch approached a topic that is of paramount importance and addressed it in a way which allowed for honest dialogue,” she said. “He is a true expert in the field of addiction medicine, and everyone left that keynote address with greater awareness, understanding and knowledge about the impact of addiction.”

“His address will be the start of many open and honest conversations between faculty, residents and students on how we can best help one another and utilize resources, such as the MATTERS program to educate, support and save lives.”

Looking to Add More Learning Opportunities

Watt said another personal highlight for her was the presence and engagement of the Jacobs School medical students.

“They brought energy, enthusiasm and were outstanding ambassadors for the University at Buffalo,” she said.

Watt and her team are already planning for next year’s conference and she said they will focus on expansion to include workshops and other hands-on learning opportunities.

“We will be working closely with other specialties such as emergency medicine and surgery to bring in an interdisciplinary feel to the conference as well,” she said. “Additionally, we have invited and will continue to welcome our nursing colleagues (student nurse anesthesia students and nurse anesthetists) to join in the learning experience.”

“I could not be prouder of my team. I know I push them to take on challenges and this conference was one of them,” Watt adds.

“We have to challenge ourselves to reach beyond our city limits and demonstrate to others all of the fantastic opportunities that reside here in Buffalo. Many conference attendees approached me after the event to share their enthusiasm about attending next year and cannot wait to come to Buffalo again!”