Meet Dr. Jay Keystone, Director of Travel Health, Medisys Toronto
Dr. Jay Keystone graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School, he studied internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center and studied tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Jay has worked in Africa, India and South America. Currently, he is a staff physician at the Tropical Disease Unit at Toronto General Hospital, and is also the Director of Toronto Medisys Travel Health Clinic, as well as the Queens University Travel Medicine Clinics. Dr. Keystone is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. In 2008, he was awarded the Ben Kean Medal from the American Society of Tropical Medicine for excellence in teaching and mentoring. In 2015, he received the Order of Canada for his contributions as a clinician and educator in expanding the discipline of tropical and travel medicine.
Dr. Keystone’s 40-year career in tropical diseases has led him to numerous countries around the world. “Zika virus, Chikungunya virus, smallpox, dengue fever, leprosy and every worm imaginable, I’ve seen it all,” says Keystone. As a senior staff physician in Tropical Diseases at Toronto General Hospital and the travel health director of Canada’s largest preventive healthcare company, Jay has built a career in treating, preventing, and teaching about tropical and infectious diseases.
What made you decide to become a doctor? Practicing medicine combines science, caring, and healing, that’s what I love. I approach life much in the same way that I approach being a physician; to cure sometimes, to comfort often, and to care always.
Why did you decide to pursue tropical medicine? Tropical medicine is very interesting because it lets me see diseases that we wouldn’t normally see in Canada, diseases are only seen in people who visit or come from other areas around the world. The field of tropical medicine is particularly interesting in Toronto because it’s the most multicultural city on the planet. Torontonians are exposed to a global hub of tourists, immigrants, visiting friends and relatives from other countries, and individuals returning from trips to their home countries to visit their friends and relatives. Visiting Friends and Relatives or, “VRFs”, are a huge and very important group in this city. When people come to Canada from other countries and stay for a while, they may not realize that they’ve lost their immunity to certain infections when they return to their homeland to visit. They may think they don’t need to be immunized, and then they end up getting really sick abroad. It’s a fascinating medical field to be in, especially in a city like Toronto.
Tell us something that not many people know about you: When I was young, my school principal told my mother that I would never get into university. I was failing in public school and I was mediocre in high school at best. I graduated first in my class at medical school. Kids can be tough, they’ll throw you curve balls. But the truth is, no one has a crystal ball – if you could see into the future, you’d probably save yourself many sleepless nights because likely, you’d realize it all turns out fine in the end. If your kids are struggling academically when they are young, try focusing on their positive traits and don’t fret too much about the future.
What’s your most important piece of preventive health advice to travelers: Don’t get hit, don’t get bit, don’t get lit, don’t do it, and don’t eat sh_t! You can do everything right and still get sick, and you can do everything wrong and still stay well. Staying safe and healthy while abroad is dependent not only on the preventive measures you take; it’s also a matter of luck, your immune system, and what’s in the area being visited.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received: What goes around, comes around. Be good to people and good will come back to you…that’s the story of my life.
What’s the secret to lifelong happiness: Love of work and love of family.
What keeps you inspired? I’m inspired by improving the lives of my patients and keeping them healthy when they travel overseas. It is what’s kept me inspired since I started practicing tropical and travel medicine in 1976.
What’s your greatest achievement? I received the Order of Canada in 2015 for my role in expanding the discipline of tropical and travel medicine as a clinician and educator, but my proudest moment is training myself out of a job. As an educator and lecturer, the thing I’m most proud of is getting young doctors interested in the field of tropical medicine, and teaching them to treat their patients with detailed care and concern. To date Dr. Keystone has trained nearly 1000 young doctors in tropical medicine.
When travelling abroad, what should you bring with you? Insect repellent and sunscreen – but just make sure the sunscreen is applied first. I also advise travelers to bring hand sanitizer, extra medication if you are on medication, and some over the counter basics (Advil or Tylenol, antihistamine, medication for traveller’s diarrhea, and constipation medication).
Are there any emerging health concerns that should be on travellers’ radar? I think that drug resistant bacteria will be the next major concern with infections. We’re going to get to the point where people with regular infections can’t be treated with available antibiotics because the bacteria have become so resistant to the drugs. Development and advancement in vaccines and newer drugs will help combat the antibiotic resistance issue but it’s still something of emerging concern.
Why is it important consult with a tropical medicine specialist BEFORE travelling abroad? Since the threat of certain diseases differs depending on where you are visiting, what you’ll be doing on your trip, and your personal health status, the best preventive health measure is to talk to a specialist and learn what you should be immunized for, what medications you may need to take, and what to be careful of while abroad.