Celebrating International Women's Day & Canadian Women Physicians’ Day!
In March, we celebrate remarkable women, including the hundreds of extraordinary female researchers and clinicians across BC Cancer.
March 8 is International Women’s Day, closely followed by Canadian Women Physicians’ Day on March 12. To mark the occasions, MSES & MDSA spoke to Dr. Karen Gelmon, distinguished BC Cancer medical oncologist and researcher, about some of the pearls of wisdom she has gained throughout her career and her hopes for current and future generations of female physicians. Here are some of the highlights.
Why do you think it’s important to have a day of recognition for women?
As a general principle, we don’t celebrate one another enough. I think the first rule of good leadership – male or female – is to promote and cherish the people around you. So having a date to do that, International Women’s Day and Canadian Women Physicians’ Day, is important.
I know you have been a mentor throughout your career. Why has that been important?
One of the things we often do is we train young people and then throw them out into the world and expect them to succeed. The famous line: “I walked in the snow in bare feet and you have to too,” is not necessarily the best advice.
Mentoring is different than spoon feeding. We don’t want to take away anyone’s autonomy. It just means you are sharing information, promoting knowledge or being a sounding board. I think it’s very important that we share our learning, and that we give people the idea that they don’t have to know everything right away.
Who has mentored or inspired you?
I have really appreciated what I learned from a lot of people as I grew through my career. When I was a resident in Vancouver in internal medicine and then oncology, there were a number of great teachers and women who were inspiring: Vivien Basco, a Radiation Oncologist, and Vicki Bernstein and Doris Kavanagh, Cardiologists. Seeing how they put together their careers and families was interesting. Susan O’Reilly, our Medical Oncology head, was a powerhouse and still is. And Connie Eaves, whose commitment to research has been remarkable. There have been many others. Whether you call them mentors or role models or teachers; these women are inspirations.
And women who I am senior to, who are working in medical, radiation and surgical oncology, are doing phenomenal work and are inspirations.
What is the biggest barrier for women in the field and are you encouraged by change?
While there’s an increasing number of women in medical school, residency, and leadership roles, women still experience misogyny in the system. Our Indigenous culture talks about ‘unlearning’ and both men and women would benefit by ‘unlearning’ prejudices they still carry despite denying them. Women often dismiss themselves or experience imposter syndrome. There remains an opportunity for us all to change.
What would you like female physicians to keep in mind?
What I’d like them to know is that no one is fully formed, even at the end of their careers. Stay curious, open and excited about new ideas. It’s what has kept me engaged in my career.
Being a mother, wife, friend, researcher, teacher, and an oncologist is a difficult balance. One of the things I feel strongly about is that it’s all part of our being. People tend to compartmentalize, but I think if you want to be a harmonized person, it’s about having one’s various sides work together with an open heart.
My hope is that women are able to do their job with pride, to feel respected and part of an organization that is moving forward, to provide great patient-centred and evidenced-based care, and to be creative in their work and research.
Dr. Karen Gelmon is a renowned medical oncologist, researcher and teacher. She recently retired from clinical practice, and continues in her research role, part time at BC Cancer. Dr. Gelmon is the Chair of the UBC/BC Cancer’s Research Ethics Board and has been widely recognized for her contributions to science and medicine. In 2021, she was awarded the Doctors of BC Terry Fox Medal, and she was listed as one of the World’s Most Influential Minds in 2017.
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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.