With a remarkable career that spans an impressive 36 years as an orthopedic surgeon at Valley Regional Hospital (VRH), Dr. Eric Howatt is currently in the process of transitioning out of active medical practice into well-deserved semi-retirement.
Dr. Howatt has devoted a significant portion of his life to serving as a physician. This transition marks a pivotal moment in his professional and personal journeys. Another orthopedic surgeon is stepping in to take over the longstanding practice, his son Dr. Jonathan Howatt. Jonathan was the successful candidate of an open Nova Scotia Health competition for the role. After accepting the role, Jonathan returned home after completing residency training and a fellowship with his family in tow.
As orthopedic surgeons, Drs. Howatt and Howatt specialize in the musculoskeletal system, which involves diagnosing conditions related to bones, joints, and muscles, and if necessary, proceeding to surgery. They both have a shared passion for connecting with their patients and enhancing the quality of life for those under their care.
“That's why you go into surgery – the tangible positive impact you can have on someone's life," said Eric.
Originally from Prince Edward Island, Dr. Eric Howatt completed medical school at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador before completing residency training in Halifax and fellowships in Switzerland and England. A job became available in Kentville, and he and his wife decided to permanently settle in Maritimes.
“Upon my arrival at VRH, the orthopedic department consisted of only two surgeons, myself, and now retired Dr. A.B.F (“Pete”) Connelly. The primary challenge we encountered was the overwhelming workload and on-call responsibilities,” said Eric. “Despite this, the quality of care at VRH was exceptional, with strong support from various specialties and family physicians.”
The team of orthopedic surgeons expanded over time, which provided a more manageable work-life balance for Eric and his colleagues.
Over the years, Eric Howatt not only established himself as a skilled orthopedic surgeon but also played a crucial role in reducing wait times in the province. He held the position of Chief of Surgery at VRH for a significant part of his 36-year career. In this role, he was responsible for overseeing and managing the surgical department. Reflecting on his work, he shared, "We were able to achieve, with negotiations, additional funding to bring four more orthopedic surgeons to the province and allocate resources to address long wait times."
Despite facing challenges, including the impact of COVID-19, Eric Howatt expressed optimism about improving wait times, acknowledging that there's still work to be done.
Additionally, Eric has served as the Chief of Surgery for the Western Zone and held the role of clinical head for Perioperative Services for Nova Scotia Health.
"I'm not retiring yet. My intention is to take a break, then return in some capacity—possibly for consultations or surgical assist,” he said. “It has been my honor contributing to the care of patients in western Nova Scotia. I look forward to continuing that contribution in some capacity in the future.”
The younger Dr. Howatt has lived in Kentville since he was a year old, following the completion of his father’s fellowships overseas.
After obtaining a business degree, Jonathan Howatt found himself at a crossroads during the 2008 financial crisis. With limited job prospects in business, he embarked on a transformative journey, spending a year and a half teaching English and learning Mandarin in Taiwan, and extensively traveling the world. The experience not only propelled a change in career but a newfound appreciation for his hometown.
"It was during this time, immersed in a different culture, that I started contemplating a career change," he said. "I wanted to have a career where I can play a meaningful role within my community as well as provide the opportunity to live in the Annapolis Valley long-term."
Upon returning to Kentville, Jonathan decided to pursue a career in medicine. He enrolled at Acadia University, taking science courses and volunteering at the VRH’s emergency department. He enrolled in medical school at Dalhousie University in 2013.
Jonathan’s interest in surgery was sparked during his early days in medical school when he shadowed surgeons involved in trauma surgery. A pivotal moment occurred during a placement with orthopedic surgeon, and family friend, Dr. Kevin Orrell in Cape Breton. Jonathan gained insights into the intricacies of orthopedic practice. This experience confirmed his desire to specialize in orthopedics just like his father.
“Witnessing (my father) in action is particularly fascinating because, for 36 years, he dedicated himself to his work. Growing up, you don't really ponder what your father does at work. Now, I get a glimpse into the life he has led for the past 36 years, and it's truly special,” said Jonathan.
Jonathan brings innovation to his practice using a minimally invasive surgical method known as the direct anterior approach. Trained under hip specialists in Ottawa and Toronto, he aims to enhance patient outcomes by introducing this technique to the Annapolis Valley.
Along with the orthopedic practice staying in the family, so too will Jonathan Howatt be supported by Kathy Barrett, who also provided administrative support to his father from the beginning of the senior Dr. Howatt’s practice.
Photo of Dr. Eric Howatt (left) and Dr. Jonathan Howatt (right).