At age 60, Dr. Geoff Seagram ’55, McGill Meds ’63, FRCS(C) retired from surgical practice and teaching at the University of Calgary and became a volunteer ski coach and tennis pro — and today at 86, he offers some valuable life lessons.
Tell us a bit about your post-UCC life.
Right after UCC — we had Grade 13 then — I entered McGill’s commerce program and bailed on that. I transferred to McGill meds and trained in pediatric general and thoracic surgery at Sick Kids in Toronto. I worked with a pediatric surgeon at the University of Miami as part of my McLaughlin Fellowship and then worked in neonatology at University of California San Francisco. In 1972 I began my surgery practice in Calgary, where I was the city’s first pediatric surgeon — there are five there now.
I live in Fernie, B.C., and I’ve enjoyed skiing for many years. In the 1988 Olympics, I had the chance to work as a doctor covering alpine events at Nakiska outside Calgary. At 60, I decided to retire, and then I became a volunteer developmental alpine ski coach with FAST — the Fernie Alpine Ski Team — and a volunteer tennis pro at Muskoka Lakes Golf and Country Club during summers.
Was switching your university major a tough decision?
Definitely not. Commerce was not for me. I think my father was hoping that I’d eventually work in the family business (Canada Barrels and Kegs, which was retained by the family when the distillery was sold in 1927). But I was interested in medicine. I had the needed grit and tenacity, and my grades vastly improved once I started studying the sciences.
Do you have any advice for UCC students interested in pursuing medicine?
Good grades, volunteer experience and strong interpersonal skills are all important. You need to be ready for MMIs — multiple mini-interviews — too. It’s really difficult to get into medicine. To be a good consultant you must be available, affable and able.
What insights would you share with any UCC student or recent graduate?
Work hard, achieve something, and feel happy you have done it. Have a passion for something and follow that passion. Grit, tenacity and resilience are key. And don’t discount work in a skilled trade — there are some great careers there.
Work-life balance is important — keep your mind active and once you’re in the workforce, keep an interest outside of work. You need a release once in a while. Work hard and play hard.
What’s your advice for alumni on the threshold of retirement?
Look for something else that will carry you through your retirement. If you’ve been busy all of your life, you can’t suddenly shut the door. It’s important to have an interest, or interests, that will keep your mind active. And keep physically active too.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your career in medicine?
I loved neonatal surgery — particularly if there was one problem I was able to correct. Nothing’s more satisfying than that. And then it’s wonderful to see those kids progress. I’ve run into former patients who are now adults living healthy, fulfilling lives, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of your coaching?
In tennis or skiing, it’s rewarding to work with somebody and then see them develop their skill sets.
How did your time at UCC prepare you for life?
I was a Prefect in Wedd’s, and in study hall the younger kids loved to misbehave and try to distract the older students. So two of the things I learned were how to focus and how to study. Even today, I prefer reading if there’s something going on around me!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I had a great preceptor, one of the teaching surgeons at Sick Kids, who told me to “never make money your primary interest in surgery.” He said, “Do your job well, you will be referred cases, and your income will follow.”