Dr. Tony Reiman is nothing short of a hero in our community. In addition to easing the suffering of cancer patients as an oncologist at the Saint John Regional Hospital, he holds the titles of Canadian Cancer Society Research Chair, Assistant Dean of Research at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB), Research Professor at the University of New Brunswick, and Senior Scientist for Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute, to name a few.
Out of his DMNB lab on UNB Saint John’s campus, Reiman leads both clinical and laboratory medical research projects. Last year, his team was awarded $5 million from the Terry Fox Research Institute for multiple myeloma cancer research.
Dr. Reiman didn’t always dream of entering the medical profession. As a student at UNB taking a double major in Biology and Physics, Reiman’s earlier interests were based in technological development and innovation, rather than medicine. As his courses became more focused, however, his fascination for molecular and cell biology began to grow.
Throughout Dr. Reiman’s time at UNB, he also discovered his love for research. In fact, his first publication did not involve medicine at all. Reiman’s honors thesis project studied acoustic communication of harbor seals and how the atmosphere just above the water affected the transmittance of sound.
“I really enjoyed the research process, I learned a lot about research doing that.”
Taking the Leap
After his science degree at UNB, Dr. Reiman decided to make the jump and pursue his medical degree at the University of Toronto. Toronto’s innovative environment reignited Reiman’s early excitement for technology.
“Toronto seemed to be the place that had the most going… [that environment] continued to stoke my interest in research.”
Despite the richness of opportunities in Toronto for cutting edge research, Reiman still chose to return to New Brunswick in the summers. He worked one summer in the radiology department in Saint John doing clinically oriented research and another two summers working alongside a pediatric oncologist at the Saint John Regional Hospital.
“I had the opportunity to explore the school in Toronto yet come back here for a summer job and research. I could see this place had something going on as well. My experience [in Saint John] stood up very well against the experiences I was having in Toronto.”
After completing his first four years of medical school, Reiman was unsure of his desired specialty. He knew he did not want to be a surgeon. Instead of being up at 3:00 AM performing an emergency operation, he preferred committing his time to making the difficult diagnosis and playing the role of detective. Reiman decided to keep his options open and take his residency in internal medicine.
Dr. Reiman’s eventual decision to pursue oncology was rooted in a few key factors. He was inspired as a child by Terry Fox’s heroic effort to raise money and awareness for cancer research. An experience with an affected family member also sparked an emotional motivation towards oncology.
“I had that childhood inspiration and an interest in subject matter.”
Following his time in Toronto, Dr. Reiman’s next step was to find a cancer research training program. This time he followed his excitement to Edmonton, Alberta. Large investments were going into cancer research and the world leading facilities and work was enticing. Additionally, Reiman found the close connection between his clinical practice and his research in the laboratory to be quite powerful.
After his time away, Reiman decided to make another leap; only this time, he was bringing his experience and expertise back to Saint John. Dr. Reiman was informed of a vision to start a medical school in Saint John and he decided to get involved. As the third employee of Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, his only condition for taking the job was a space in the lab for research.
“I had the great opportunity to build it from the ground up… it’s been a lot of work, but it was a labor of love I’d say.”
Dr. Reiman emphasized the importance of using what he learned while training in Edmonton and Toronto, along with the power of leveraging connections, when growing the medical program in Saint John. Now the research centre leads both national and international projects.
Ultimately, Dr. Reiman is happy with his contributions to the program and feels a sense of pride in educating new doctors that will go on to make meaningful impacts in the lives of others. When it is all said and done, Reiman wants to be remembered for “leaving the place a little better than [he] found it.”
Advice for Aspiring Students
When students that are interested in following a similar path ask him for his advice, Reiman tells them to find something that they are passionate about and to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who share common goals.
“Sometimes you got to take a leap, believe in what you’re doing and keep at it. If fundamentally you are doing something that is worthwhile, and that people can get behind, find a way forward, whatever that is.”
For students wanting to become involved in research of their own, Reiman suggests that the topic of the project is less important than being immersed in the research world and learning about the process from start to finish.