Dr. Ronald Olivenstein
For Dr. Ronald Olivenstein, asthma specialist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC, each new patient represents both an enigma and a challenge. He has never seen an “uninteresting case”; he doesn’t even know what that means. "Patients don’t go to the doctor without a reason—trying to understand what ails each one of my patients is a challenge that keeps me working in this field,” he says.
From the myriad of complex cases he has encountered, two conclusions have shaped his career: first, you must work with a multidisciplinary team to make reliable diagnoses; second, you have to interact with clinicians and patients to carry out research.
With this in mind, he established the first asthma clinic at the MUHC in 1992. With nurses and doctors from different specialties, the clinic has experts capable of analyzing each patient’s case down to the smallest detail in order to define the most suitable treatment.
The clinic also employs many researchers working to unravel the mechanisms of severe asthma that are still not well understood. “I am not an expert in either medicine or research, but I master these subjects well enough to coordinate scientists, doctors and epidemiologists and to produce results to help everyone progress. My role is to act as the link between the labs and the exam rooms,” explains Dr. Olivenstein. Indeed, this research-patient interaction is what gave rise to broncho-thermoplasty: this technique represents new hope for non-medical treatment of asthma, that one day could lead to a therapeutic revolution. How the therapy develops will be watched closely.
The career of this humanist doctor-detective started in Belgium at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he studied medicine from 1976 to 1983. He came to McGill University as a medical intern at the Jewish General Hospital in 1984 and then in 1988 focused on respirology research under the direction of J.G. Martin at the Montreal Chest Institute. There he founded the asthma clinic in 1992 and acts as its director to this day. Currently, in 2007, he is also the director of the Pulmonary Function Laboratory and the Medical Pavilion at the Montreal Chest Institute of the MUHC, as well as Assistant Professor of Medicine at McGill University.
The quality and impact of his work have been recognized around the world in both academic and private spheres. Dr. Olivenstein is the author of more than 120 reference works and has published almost 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, he has received continued support through private funding from pharmaceutical companies, who are well aware of the possible therapeutic applications of his work.