Q & A: Dr. Brian Westerberg

Promise Magazine: Spring/Summer 2015

Dr. Brian Westerberg, head of the Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at St. Paul’s, is an award-winning physician, researcher and mentor who specializes in the treatment of disorders of the ear. Westerberg is one of a handful of physicians in BC who perform the innovative cochlear implant surgery. This procedure involves implanting an electronic device into the patient’s ear that provides a sense of sound to the wearer. Westerberg is also a scientist with the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHÉOS) at St. Paul’s and clinical professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of British Columbia.

What motivated you to become an otolaryngologist?

Once I started learning more about the sensory cells in the ear and how they worked, I was fascinated. That led me to do a fellowship in otology and neurotology [the study and treatment of neurological disorders of the ear].

Tell me about the renaming of the Rotary Hearing Clinic to the BC Rotary Hearing and Balance Centre at St. Paul’s.

We’ve always been a centre for both hearing and balance at St. Paul’s. The hearing has always been front and centre, but renaming the clinic is representative of the fact that we are really a provincial referral centre for patients with complex disorders related to both the hearing and the balance system of the inner ear.

Why did the Centre recently undergo a renovation and receive new equipment?

Every year for the past five years we’ve seen about a five-per- cent increase in the volume of patients at the Centre. Our waitlist was up to nine months at one point. The funds that we received [through a $500,000 St. Paul’s Foundation fundraising campaign] supported a third sound booth and additional staff, and additionally allowed us to purchase a state-of-the-art micro-scope for the operating room. Now we can assess more patients per year and our waitlist is down to around five months and dropping.

What are some of the research projects underway at the Centre?

We have a research fellow from the Netherlands who’s been working on a way to use magnetized stem cells in the ear to potentially improve the function of cochlear implants.

As well, our associate, Dr. Jane Lea, is interested in balance disorders, particularly how anxiety can affect patients’ balance. She is also looking at ways of delivering care closer to home using outreach and telecommunications-based tools.

What plans do you have for the future?

What’s exciting is seeing how the technology is moving along and how new tests are enabling us to better diagnose and treat patients. Moving forward, we’re still looking for ways to continue to provide exceptional care to patients so that they’re more comfortable and have a better quality of life.

Of which of your accomplishments are you the most proud?

Having such a phenomenal team at St. Paul’s that is so focused on providing excellent patient care is amazing. It’s a great place to work. ■