A Lesson from the Heart: An SMCS First

Several classes of Grade 11 biology students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) are set to hear a decidedly different take on the human heart.

Specifically, their current area of study focuses on the electrical signalling of the heart and the sounds produced by the body’s most complex organ.

The explanation of these concepts will come from a teacher himself, who also sees the human heart up-close and unfiltered every day --- in the operating room.

“What a unique and rewarding experience to have as a student to be able to speak to a doctor first-hand about the functions of the heart,” says Jenna Hilborn, science teacher at SMCS, whose biology class is among those participating. “I wish I was able to have this experience when I was in high school.”

Dr. Robert James (RJ) Cusimano, cardiovascular surgeon at work removing a cardiac tumour from the heart of a young patient. He will be delivering a biology lecture at St. Michael’s College School in October 2019.
Photo courtesy of: Peter Munk Cardiac Centre/UHN

This novel experiential learning opportunity will involve Dr. Robert James (RJ) Cusimano, a cardiac surgeon at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital, teaching this piece of the biology curriculum at SMCS on October 30, during a 75-minute session.

“This is really the first of its kind at St. Michael's where we bring in a guest lecturer and the students will be responsible for the material,” says John Walsh ’73, a former biology teacher at SMCS and current head of Community and Learning Partnerships at the school. “It is part of the curriculum and not just a guest speaker for interest sake.” 

In his role, Walsh seeks out and facilitates meaningful experiential opportunities that tie the curriculum to out-of-the-classroom, real-world learning.

Dr. Cusimano speaking to science students at SMCS in 2017 via Skype as part of an experiential learning initiative.

“Two years ago, Dr. Cusimano was very generous with his time by producing a video of a cardiac procedure and following it up with a Skype session with the students,” Walsh continues. “The session was well-received by the students. I thought that this time it might have more impact by bringing Dr. Cusimano to the school and having him teach a lesson in his area of specialty.”

As a cardiovascular surgeon who works in an academic-teaching hospital, Dr. Cusimano is used to educating --- a mandatory part of his role. Among the audiences he teaches --- medical students, residents and fellows, as well as colleagues. As a global leader in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac tumours, and cancer of the heart --- Dr. Cusimano is also a sought-after lecturer who visits healthcare institutions around the world to teach and learn --- with the ultimate goal of saving lives.

Several classes of St. Michael’s College School science students listen and ask questions of Dr. Cusimano during a Skype session facilitated by Community and Learning Partnerships at SMCS in 2017.

This will be the second time Jacob Lang, science teacher at SMCS, will have a class participate and interact with Dr. Cusimano.

“Based on the conversation I had with those students at the time [2017], the chance to hear and converse with a world-renowned surgeon in their own backyard was truly an opportunity of a lifetime,” says Lang.

A group of SMCS students take part in a global conference on cardiac tumours hosted by Dr. RJ Cusimano (third from right), cardiac surgeon, in 2019, and facilited by John Walsh ’73 (pictured left).

“Moreover, I hope the boys hear how important faith is to Dr. Cusimano,” adds Lang. “Faith is a huge aspect of his life and how he goes about his profession. He is a very down-to-earth person. He cares for his patients, has strong core values, loves his job and is passionate about his field. Hopefully students can get a sense of what it really means to be a healthcare professional and the hard work that is required on a daily basis.”

Dr. Robert James (RJ) Cusimano, cardiovascular surgeon at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network (UHN), will teach a combined Grade 11 biology class at St. Michael’s College School on Wednesday, October 30, 2019.