Yu’s Key to Success Lies in His Own Two Hands

Thomas Yu

Canadian pianist and periodontist Dr. Thomas Yu found the key to success in his own two hands.

When the award-winning musician isn’t dazzling concert audiences internationally, he is providing oral health care to dental patients. In addition to his manual dexterity, Yu’s success is dependent upon his ability to balance a busy performance schedule at prestigious halls around the world with a full-time career as a periodontist.

Periodontics is the branch of dentistry that involves dental implant procedures and gum surgery.

“Dentistry motivates and challenges my intellect. You always have to be ‘on’ when working,” says Yu, reflecting on his divergent passions. “In music I consider myself to be more instinctive, visceral in some ways, aggressive. I find the animal inside.”

Yu explains that the decision to pursue dentistry rather than medicine was to ensure a career in the health sector also allowed the flexibility required to pursue music - a decision that has found him performing as a guest soloist across four continents, at venues including Carnegie Hall in New York, Forte de Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Salle Gaveau in Paris and Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw.

Yu’s most recent musical accomplishment was performing the Bach Triple Concerto in Wales with the BBC Orchestra (cellist was Yo-Yo Ma.), a concert recorded by the BBC. Of that illustrious occasion, Yu admits that “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be doing that.”

The humble dentist credits his professors (both undergraduate and graduate) for offering support and encouragement to continue playing piano while pursuing his dental education:

“Without their support, I don’t know where I would be now.”

Yu attended dental school at the University of Saskatchewan, completed his residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and earned his master’s degree in periodontics at the University of Toronto in 2007 – all at the top of his class.

While residing in Toronto, Yu studied at the renowned Glenn Gould School, an internationally recognized facility for professional music training.

His academic achievements and awards include a D.M.D. with Great Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan, a University of Saskatchewan Top 100 Alumni award and a Lieutenant Governor’s “30 Below” award.

Reminiscing on his College years, Yu says  “Having fun with my classmates each and every clinic day is my greatest memory. Some of the antics Dr. Kabir Virdi and I would do to entertain our classmates at the end of the day still put a smile on my face whenever I think about them.”

U. of  S. College of Dentistry Associate Dean Ken Sutherland recalls Yu’s strong contributions both as student and as musician: “Thomas was an excellent student, was always active in student and academic affairs, and graciously provided musical entertainment at College functions – where he never failed to earn a standing ovation.”

Sutherland adds that “Both disciplines require consummate skill. The excellence required for each is consistent with Yu’s personality and life goals, and the variety they offer is doubly stimulating. And talented as he is, he knows he has more to learn about both crafts. He truly is that rare individual: a maestro at two professions.”

About four years ago, a friend in Calgary called Yu with the news that a local periodontist had died tragically in a ski accident. His office was for sale.

“When I checked it out, I found the office I had always wished for,” says Yu, who was living and working in Toronto at that time. “I took that as a sign that I should pack up and move to Calgary.”

Neither the move into his tenth-floor periodontist office in Calgary nor his relationship of the past two years have stopped Yu from playing the piano.

“Finding time for everything I want to do gets harder and harder each year, especially as the demands of both professions get higher. Factor in the desire to have a personal life, and it becomes the greatest life challenge,” says Yu.

“Still, you never are too busy to do the things you love.”

Yu fits in practice time on a piano in the waiting room of his office and at home.

When asked what counsel he might offer to aspiring dentists, Yu passes along “advice given to me by a former president of the C.D.A.-A.D.C.: ‘Dentistry is great and all, but piano is what you live for.’ Never sacrifice what you love to do.”

He adds, “Being in the dental profession gives you a lot more freedom than many other careers, so be thankful and take full advantage.”

Thomas Yu appears to be living by that advice. The “thankful” is at least in part demonstrated by his generosity: “About 95 per cent of my concerts are pro bono.” And he clearly is someone “taking full advantage” of life.

By Debora Senger
Alumni and Stewardship Officer
College of Dentistry