May 2024Milestones

In memoriam: Dr. Harvey Sigman

Former Chief of General Surgery had life-long commitment to teaching

The leaders and staff of the JGH extend their condolences to the family of Dr. Harvey Sigman, who died on May 10 and had served at the hospital for 56 years, including in his roles as Chief of the Division of General Surgery and Director of Surgical Education.

Dr. Sigman, 91, was known for his warmth and soft-spoken manner, as well as for his passionate, life-long commitment to teaching. As the hospital’s Director of Education from 1969 to 2002, he played a key role in creating a coordinated program to develop teaching and research at the JGH and McGill University.

Dr. Sigman’s students thought so highly of him that he received the Award for Excellence in Teaching from residents of the Department of Surgery at McGill, and was named to the Faculty Honour List for Educational Excellence in Teaching.

In recognition of these achievements, the annual Harvey H. Sigman Lecture in Surgical Education was launched at the JGH in 2005. Five years later, Dr. Sigman was granted the title of Professor Emeritus by McGill’s Faculty of Medicine.

Soon after his appointment as Chief of General Surgery in 1989, Dr. Sigman persuaded the JGH’s Executive Director, Archie Deskin, to invest in initiating a program of laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery. This made the JGH one of the earliest healthcare facilities in Quebec to embark on this emerging surgical field.

“In 1990, few people thought we would eventually be doing all sorts of surgery through tiny holes,” Dr. Sigman recalled in an interview with JGH News in 2003. “But even then, I believed that most surgery would be done this way.”

In addition, as one of five surgeons on the JGH’s Breast Cancer Surgical Team, Dr. Sigman met regularly with his colleagues to discuss clinical trials, new surgical techniques and innovative forms of therapy.

Dr. Sigman received his M.D. from McGill in 1957, as well as a Master of Science degree in experimental surgery. After a year as Chief Resident in Surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital and at the Queen Mary Veterans Hospital, he joined the JGH in 1963, where he practiced until his retirement in 2019.

Over the course of his medical career, Dr. Sigman received many honours, including the Canadian Forces Decoration and the Governor General’s Medal commemorating the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.

As a volunteer in Montreal’s Jewish community, Dr. Sigman served as President of the Jewish Cultural Association, Jewish Support Services for the Elderly, and Allied Jewish Community Services (now known as Federation CJA). In acknowledgement of his outstanding contributions, he received the community’s top honour, the Samuel Bronfman Medal, in 1991.

Commenting in 2003 on his many successes, Dr. Sigman noted that the greatest challenge was not necessarily explaining the practicalities of medicine to the next generation of doctors.

“The easiest thing to teach is technique,” he said. “The hardest things to teach are humility and judgment—that is, knowing when to do something, when to ask for help, and when to seek out an objective opinion.”

Previous article

Three JGH doctors appointed to McGill as Assistant Professors

Next article

Alan Maislin awarded D’Arcy-McGee Citizenship Medal