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The French Connection: A Conversation with Dr. Marc Zerey

Mar 12, 2019, 12:06 PM by Nicole Young
A conversation with Sansum Clinic bariatric surgeon Dr. Marc Zerey.

Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Marc Zerey

If you speak with Sansum Clinic bariatric surgeon Dr. Marc Zerey, you may hear a bit of his French-Canadian provenance. Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Dr. Zerey attended French schools. His English fluency began in college when he wrestled with learning literature and calculus in a new language. He knew early in life that he wanted to be a doctor and stayed in his hometown until he became one. He completed his medical degree and residency at McGill University Medical School. After a brief stint in North Carolina to train in minimally-invasive surgery techniques, he arrived in Santa Barbara where he met his wife, Danielle, a clinical dietitian at Cottage Hospital. They have three young children who are now learning French with the help of their father.

About 40% of Dr. Zerey’s patients are candidates for bariatric surgery. This weight-loss procedure alters the digestive system to limit the amount of nutrients absorbed. These patients often have serious health problems due to obesity. The other part of Dr. Zerey’s practice is focused on multi-hour surgeries that address complicated hernias. He serves as Vice Chief of Staff at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and enjoys working with the surgical residents.

Can you tell us a little about McGill University where you received your medical degree and training?

It’s one of the oldest institutions in Canada and was named after James McGill, a Scottish immigrant who bequeathed the land where the downtown campus stands today. Many of the original buildings at McGill were built in the late 19th century with architectural influence from Scotland and England. The Royal Victoria Hospital, for example, where I did a significant amount of my medical training was founded in 1893. It’s beautiful to look at but not very functional for 21st century medicine. When I came here, I noticed many of the buildings were much newer.

Your resume says you participated in the aviation medicine program at McGill. What is that?

This program allowed residents to participate as flight physicians on chartered aircraft to recover Canadian nationals who were injured or sick from different parts of the country or around the world. I had the opportunity to fly to Europe, the Caribbean, and many areas in the U.S. and Canada. There was a pilot, copilot, a nurse, a flight physician and if the patient was on a ventilator, a respiratory therapist. It was an awesome experience.

How did you wind up moving to Santa Barbara?

After North Carolina, I had a good idea of the type of practice I was looking for. I had traveled to California in the past and loved it. To me, coastal California was the perfect place to live. I interviewed at different institutions across the state and found that Sansum Clinic was a solid organization. Eleven years later, I’m still here. Funny story, I moved here during Fiesta weekend and I knew nothing about Fiesta. I thought, ‘Is this how this place is every weekend? How am I going to get any sleep?’

What do you most enjoy about your specialty?

Weight loss surgery really changes people’s lives. It gives them a second chance. I tell them it’s not a magic pill that will fix everything. That doesn’t exist. But I am hoping that through education, discipline, and the development of other coping mechanisms the surgery will make it easier to reach certain goals.

You have been with Sansum Clinic for more than ten years. What do you like most about the institution and working here?

The collegiality is fantastic. Sansum Clinic truly attracts people from all over this country and the talent here is incredible. That’s probably the best part. Everybody seems to have the right intentions for the patient and they definitely have the same mentality of working together. I’ve always felt very welcome and appreciated here, and I enjoy coming to work for that reason.

Tell me a little bit about the research you are starting.

We are looking at improving pain management in patients undergoing laparoscopic surgery to see whether injecting pain medication directly into the nerves of the abdominal wall will decrease narcotic use afterwards. There’s more effort recently to try to decrease our reliance on narcotic prescriptions for the treatment of pain postoperatively.

Who are your role models?

My parents. My dad is a chemist. My mom worked in banking. My dad still works and he loves it. He is 73 and super healthy. I was very fortunate that I had a stable home environment. When you have that, it’s a very good foundation for your kids to succeed.

Do you have a mentor? Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your career?

Dr. Phil Gordon, a surgeon in residency that I had the pleasure of working with. He had a really strong work ethic, was level-headed and very well accomplished. I loved operating with him. He was 100% into his work, writing books, traveling across the country giving talks. That also helped me realize that I didn’t want to do full-time academics or work at a university hospital. Many of those places are less interested in your technical expertise and more interested in your research and publications. The more you publish, the better it looks for the university. I do want to be fully-engaged in my work when I am here, but I don’t want that to be the only thing in my life.

If you were not a doctor, what would your profession be?

I often think I would not mind being a stay-at-home dad to spend more time with my kids. My other answer should be photography. I love photography. I have so much photography equipment, books, editing software. If I could do that all the time I would love it!

What is something surprising about you?

I used to be a disc jockey or DJ in college. We would play at the school cafeteria radio station. We had all the records and I had so much fun. Now, my kids and I mostly listen to toddler tunes or sound tracks from their favorite movies. They want to listen to the same songs all the time.

What are your hobbies?

I love running. I also have a disturbing collection of Legos. This is my excuse: when my son was 2 or 3 years old, I started buying these Lego sets that are clearly above his level. Now, he’s 6 and we will spend weeks building a set. When my wife sees the credit card statement, she is like “Did you buy another Lego set?” I guess I am re-living my own childhood.