dr. ban tsui

By: Melanie Starr

On April 2, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine conferred its 2022 Distinguished Service Award on Dr. Ban Tsui (MD ’95), who plays multiple roles in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University and its affiliated teaching hospitals. The award, one of the society’s highest honours, recognized Dr. Tsui not only for his decades of service but also for the important innovations he has brought to regional anesthesia practice.

Dr. Tsui completed a diploma in engineering at Dalhousie before going on to earn two pharmacy degrees and a medical degree from Dalhousie University. Dr. Tsui is best known for his invention of the Epidural Electrical Stimulation Test, also known as the “Tsui Test.” This test, now used around the world for the past 25 years, has improved the accuracy of epidural catheter placement and dramatically enhanced the safety and efficacy of epidural procedures.

“It was something I was inspired to do when I was still a resident at the University of Alberta,” recalls Dr. Tsui, who has always enjoyed applying his engineering mind to medical problems and, as a child in Hong Kong, loved building things with his hands. “Dr. Finucane, the chair of the department, thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to develop it.”

As Dr. Tsui explains, the Tsui Test involves passing an electrical current through the epidural catheter once it is placed in the epidural space. The current stimulates the spinal nerve, which causes the corresponding innervated muscles to twitch, showing the anesthesiologist exactly where the catheter tip is situated.

“There was no practical way, before this, to detect the exact position of the catheter clinically,” explains Dr. Tsui. “Dyes and flouroscopy, for example, are not practical.”

In the last decade, Dr. Tsui has been advancing the use of ultrasound to assist in the precise placement of needles and catheters used in peripheral nerve blocks, such as brachial plexus nerve blocks.

“Ultimately, my goal is to assist in transforming regional anesthesia from an art to a science that every clinician can perform confidently in ensuring correct needle and catheter placement in all regional anesthesia procedures,” he says.

During his 16 years at the University of Alberta and Stollery Children’s Hospital, before he was recruited to Stanford, Dr. Tsui received the 2008 John Bradley Young Educator Award from the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society (CAS) for his efforts as a clinical teacher, researcher, and role model. In 2015, he received the CAS’s Research Recognition Award, the society’s top honour for research, given annually to a senior investigator who has made substantial contributions to Canadian anesthesia research.

Of the many things he learned in his time at Dalhousie, Dr. Tsui says the faculty’s commitment to collaboration and the open sharing of information made the greatest impression. He carries that ethos forward in his career, travelling widely to share what he has learned and to learn from others along the way.

“It’s so important to keep an open mind and to listen to others, and to share what you know freely. I learned this at Dal,” he says. “The people are easy going and they love to share. It’s a trademark attitude that was a big influence on me. Most importantly, a willingness to share my intellectual pursuits with others allows me to make a difference in the medical care of patients I have never met.”