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Celebrating Canadian Women Physicians’ Day!

March 11, 2023 marks the third annual Canadian Women Physicians’ Day. We celebrate and honour female physicians and their significant achievements in medicine and as leaders and mentors. 


More than 40% of physicians in Canada are women. At BC Cancer, we are fortunate to have an incredible number of accomplished female medical staff. They are changing the oncology landscape through their involvement in exceptional patient care and are leading local, provincial, national and international initiatives. We reached out to some of BC Cancer’s female medical staff leaders and many shared insights with us, including their hope for the next generation of women physicians, who most influenced them, and lessons they have learned over the years.

From top left to right...

Dr. Sharlene Gill

Chair, BC Cancer MSES & MDSA Engagement Initiatives 

Women physicians make up 54% of physicians under 40 (CMA survey, 2018). The next generation of women physicians are the majority minority!  Recognize your individual and collective power, and lean in unapologetically. Traits traditionally considered 'female', such as humility, collaboration, empathy, emotion and building relational connections, are now recognized to be essential for professional development and leadership. These are not mutually exclusive of purpose, drive and ambition. We can do both. The Canadian healthcare system needs transformative change and women physicians are ideally positioned to lead it

Dr. Mira Keyes

President-Elect, American Brachytherapy Society

My best advice to the next generation of women physicians is to find a female physician mentor: one who has succeeded in what you want to do. Have a group of female physician friends, so you can support each other. Most of all, honor yourself, your desires to have a balanced life, whatever that means to you, and find people and hobbies outside of medicine that will fulfill your heart.

Dr. Tamara Shenkier

Past President, BC Cancer MSES & MDSA 

Embrace aspects of the profession that resonate with your values, and seize opportunities to stretch yourself even if you don't think you have all the knowledge and skills. When Dr. Susan O'Reilly approached me to become the Director of the Medical Oncology Training Program in 2004, I did not feel ready, but I took advantage of professional development programs and grew my educational leadership skills.  Saying “yes” to that request led to subsequent opportunities, beginning with co-leading ABCCAMO and culminating in leading the MDSA. The friendships I’ve made with colleagues have nourished me professionally and personally. Opportunities are broad in academic medicine  and while I encourage saying “yes”, it is also okay to leave some endeavors to others.  Listen to your gut and build on your values and strengths.

Dr. Caron Strahlendorf

Chair, Pediatric Oncology Tumour Group

I encourage all woman physicians to be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams. Use your colleagues and friends to support you, stay true to your values and be inspired by the impact on the lives of patients and families that you serve.

Dr. Elaine Wai

Senior Executive Director, BC Cancer Medical Affairs & Quality.

My mom has been an amazing parent – setting high expectations, while providing tremendous support and guidance. She handled many challenges over her life, including immigrating across the ocean, alone, at 19 years old. She raised four kids without family support other than my Dad, and was the only bread-winner for several years. My mom did all of this with grace, fortitude and generosity, and she has taught me much about work ethic, responsibility, perseverance, and how to love and care for those around you.

Dr. Sylvie Bourque

Medical Oncology Department Head, Surrey Cancer Centre

When someone doubts your ability to accomplish something, do not argue with words. Simply show them how it’s done.

Dr. Maura Brown 

Co-Chair, Planetary Health Unit

On our current global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions "climate change will become the defining narrative of human health" (Lancet Countdown, 2021). However, we are not powerless to effect change at work, at home and in our communities. You can be part of the solution in advocating for health through reduced emissions. It is not easy. Be brave. Believe in yourself. Our voices and choices matter, and when combined with system changes, we can create a more sustainable future.

Dr. Pippa Hawley

Provincial Lead, Pain and Symptom Management/Palliative Care

My Mum is my greatest role model. She worked hard but left time for fun, valued and invested time in friends, always showed kindness, and was never intimidated by trying something new.

Dr. Shilo Lefresne

Co-Chair, BC Cancer Planetary Health Unit

My 4-year-old daughter has become my greatest source of inspiration! She has driven me to develop and refine strategies to optimize work-life balance. She is a living example of how swiftly life changes and the precious gift of human connection. She reminds me to value the unique relationships physicians have with patients, and reconnects me with my desire to preserve the quality of time, no matter how fleeting, our patients can have with their family and loved ones.

Dr. Sian Shuel

Treasurer-Secretary, BC Cancer MSES & MDSA Board of Directors

What I find most rewarding is the ability to walk through difficult situations as a team. Each of us drawing on each other’s strengths.

Dr. My Linh Thibodeau

Clinical Geneticist, Hereditary Cancer Program

My greatest female influence is my sister. She is fiercely kind, clever, and is a hardworking Statistician. She instigated great scientific curiosity in me from childhood and was an essential source of strength during my medical training. In medicine, Dr. Kasmintan (Intan) Schrader has been an extraordinary role model. A remarkable and compassionate Clinician-Scientist, I have admired her as a leader, colleague and mentor. She continues to foster my professional and academic growth as a female physician and bioinformatician.

Dr. Diana N. Ionescu

Provincial Lead, Pathology

There are many “feminine” values recently proven by scientific studies to be highly desirable in a leader. Sensitivity, intuitiveness, and empathy are the edges in my leadership roles at BC Cancer, and I consider them not as my weaknesses, but as my strength. I dare the next generation of women physicians to embrace their femininity from the way they dress and talk to the way they lead!

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