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McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Newsmagazine — Volume 9, Issue 3, Fall 2015

Renowned psychiatrist supports medical residents studying in the field

In addition to being an internationally recognized psychiatrist and chronic pain specialist in Hamilton, Jeffrey Ennis (MD '88) is an outdoor enthusiast and artist who paints and builds boats to help him cope with his own chronic pain.

Now, he has established the Ennis Endowment Fund for Pain Management, to be awarded to McMaster medical residents studying management of chronic pain. He has committed to matching all donations to the fund up to $25,000.

His motivation is to encourage young physicians to specialize in the treatment of chronic pain, a field dwindling in specialists who offer this kind of care.

"I've been in the area for 30 years. Right now, I'm the youngest guy in the field in our region and I'm 61," says Ennis, medical director of the Ennis Centre for Pain Management. "There's no one coming up through the pipe who I have met that has an interest in carrying out this type of work as their main practice."

Ennis says working in pain management is ideal for someone who is in psychiatry but also has an interest in physical medicine.

"You have to be prepared to not be part of mainstream psychiatry," says Ennis. "I do physical exams on people and that's unusual for psychiatry."

You have to be willing to be patient. You don't see large numbers of people in a day. It takes a long time to do an assessment. You have to like problem solving and thinking in a holistic manner.

— Jeffrey Ennis

He says it is important for him to give back to McMaster. "It is where I was trained and I have a very positive regard for the University and the method of learning. When I was there it was quite unique."

Having struggled with pain throughout his life, Ennis has a personal motivation. He suffers from Ehler-Danlos syndrome, a group of disorders that affect connective tissues. It has required 18 large surgeries so far. He also has a rare condition called chronic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP), a neurological disorder characterized by progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms that has seen him endure episodes of paralysis and severe neuropathic pain.

Ennis has a cottage and studio, Ennis and Sons Boatworks Studio, on Minnicock Lake in Highlands East in Haliburton County. There he spends time with his wife Gilda and four sons: Jesse, Jamie, Jonathan and Daniel, and escapes his pain through his artwork and boatbuilding.

"Painting or carpentry, it doesn't make a difference, when I do it it just lets me sort of forget about what's bothering me physically, so it's a good method of coping for me. I can get lost in what I'm doing," he says.

Ennis has had to adapt significantly in order to approach boat building. For one, he has had to change the heights of things. As well, some of the boats require steam bending of ribs to put them into the boats and usually this would be done from the top down.

"Typically you would bend into the boat to put the ribs in, and I really can't do that, so I reversed the whole boatbuilding method in order to do those kinds of things," he says. "It's just having to think through every step and doing it much differently than most people would."

Ennis is currently working on three boats: an 18-foot trimaran, which is a three-part boat; a smaller sailboat; and a canoe for his youngest son. He has also built a boat for each of his other sons. He also always has two or three paintings on the go.