Feb. 24, 2020

Nurturing talent

Dr. John Tyberg praised for his commitment to students
Dr. John Tyberg in his lab
Dr. John Tyberg poses in his lab with Dr. Maryell Urroz and Cheryl Hall.

On the wall of one of the oldest labs at UCalgary’s Foothills Campus hangs a banner beautifully scripted in Chinese characters. Translated, the Chinese proverb reads “the peaches and plums that you have nurtured are everywhere.” It is a fitting tribute to the career of Dr. John Tyberg, MD, PhD. 

Tyberg, 81, was a young scientist with a focus on cardiovascular mechanics and dynamics when he started his lab at the University of Calgary in 1981. Thirty-eight years later, that lab— one of only a handful in the world that investigate the cardiovascular system according to engineering principles—is still producing results. 
Tyberg’s research interests are varied, but generally focus on topics that have a tangible impact on patients. “I am interested in today’s problems,” he says. 

Tyberg’s is a well-known name in the field, due to his contributions in the areas of pericardial interaction, cardiac pulmonary function and his wave reservoir theory. 

Although Tyberg is part of an elite group of world-class investigators, the soft-spoken scientist doesn’t have an ounce of arrogance. What does stand out is his genuine interest in others. The warmth of community surrounds you the minute you step into Tyberg’s lab, immediately easing the concerns of the day. Tyberg’s community started small with just a handful of researchers, but now includes scholars, clinicians and colleagues from around the world. The commonality is that each person has had the good fortune to work with Tyberg in some capacity. 

“He is one of the most intelligent and kind-hearted people that I know,” says Cheryl Hall, who started working with Tyberg in 1982 and is now his lab manager. “He’s genuinely interested in the people in the lab and their families and what is going on with them. We’re family.”

The lab photos – taken almost every year for the last 38 - that line the wall of the lab feature the other members of Tyberg’s lab family: the 29 students who have trained in the lab over the years. Many of those trainees have gone onto successful careers as physicians, researchers and academics. 

“I still have contact with most of these people,” says Tyberg of the individuals in the photos, which show the progression of time through the changing faces, many of which appear year after year. “I consider a great many of them as personal friends.”

Dr. Carol Kroeker, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Dept. of Physiology and Pharmacology, knows firsthand what a wonderful mentor Tyberg is. She completed her doctoral and postdoctoral studies with him and can’t say enough about her mentor’s kindness, flexibility and ability to motivate. 

“It’s really hard to describe what Dr. John Tyberg did for me,” she says. “I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for him, and I don’t think I would be the teacher I am today if he hadn’t shown me how to treat students. If I could inspire even one student the way John inspired me, I would feel like a success.”

Dr. Nairne Scott-Douglas, MD, PhD, was a young football player with an interest in science when he came to study in the Tyberg lab. 

Today, he is the Senior Medical Director of the Alberta Health Services Kidney Health Strategic Clinical Network, the Medical Director of the Southern Alberta Renal Program and head of the Division of Nephrology. 

He attributes much of his success to Tyberg, noting the man “imparts far much more than knowledge to people.” 
“I got into medical school because of him. I could afford to go to school because of him,” Scott-Douglas says of his mentor. “Throughout medical school his support was still there. He was interested in my world.”

A unique perspective to problems, approachability and genuine interest are common themes that emerge when speaking with Tyberg’s colleagues, friends and former trainees. 

Tyberg also feels what he calls the “intrinsic benefits” to mentoring. 

“I feel a great sense of pride when I think of these people,” he says. “It has been a rewarding experience.”