First ever Canadian Women’s Physician Day – March 11, 2021

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March 11 2021, marks the first ever Canadian Women Physicians Day. On this day in 1875, Dr Jennie Trout the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada.

Dr Liana Hwang of the Canadian Women in Medicine organization states, “as Canadian medical schools did not accept female students at the time, Dr Trout attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1875. She returned to Toronto, where she obtained her medical license and opened her own practice, including a free dispensary for patients in financial need.”

On Canadian Women Physicians Day, we remember the trailblazing women who paved the way and the challenges that they overcame. We celebrate women physicians who are making a difference today, like IWK Health’s Dr Amy Ornstein, Head of General Academic Pediatrics and Child Protection and Dr Alexa Bagnell, Chief of Psychiatry. They shared with us some of the women who inspire them and advice for women beginning their careers .

Dr Amy Ornstein, Head of General Academic Pediatrics and Child Protection

“My advice to all young women considering a career in medicine is truly focus on exploring your many likes and dislikes. There are so many exciting career opportunities. Try something that makes you uncomfortable and don’t be afraid of taking the less predictable path. Ask questions of the women and men around you. Seek out mentors who are passionate about their work and are able to share what brings joy to them each and every day.  The career you chose to build should be fulfilling and rewarding for you.’

Dr. Alexa Bagnell, Chief of Psychiatry

“In terms of inspiring women in medicine there are many.  In our province, I greatly admire Dr. Margaret Casey who practiced family medicine and was part of faculty of medicine at Dalhousie until her retirement.  She is a role model to many women physicians who trained at Dalhousie, and a wonderful mentor.  She embodies the essence of medicine, caring and compassion, doing the right thing, and putting others first.  She had the courage and vision to champion bringing medicine to the community in order to address disparities in access and social determinants of health.  She is remarkably humble despite her many career accomplishments, and was an early leader in equity, diversity and inclusion in medicine.

My advice to women considering a career as a physician:  It is truly a wonderful career to have the privilege to make a difference in other’s lives. Being a doctor is demanding and challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.  There is much more support now of flexibility for women balancing family and career, and I am inspired by the young women physicians entering our profession.”

Dr Dolores McKeen, Chief, Women’s & Obstetrical Anesthesia

“Sadly I have never had a senior woman mentor in Medicine.. I very distinctively recall seeing the woman physician octogenarian as a medical student when I attended an American conference in 1991. Reflecting, in medical school in NL I had never been exposed to elderly women physicians. There just weren’t many, if any in the very small MUN faculty . I can only imagine the barriers this lady would have had to over come going to medical school in the 1930s.  I also recall seeing the first woman general surgeon who joined the faculty probably 1997/8. It really brings home to me.. “see her to be her”. I hate lime light .. but I as a result, try hard to raise awareness of my career accomplishments .. as a women in medicine, first full professor of research in my dept & in a senior leadership roles ie dept chief & as only the 4th president of my national specialty society thru being visible to younger women.. interviews, presenting, social media, career events. 

Medicine is a hard but rewarding career. You are smart, you are able, follow your passions & believe in yourself. All the gender & intersectional barriers in medicine & society are more & more being recognized & are coming down. 

Remember your career priorities advance & demands in your personal life goes thru stages. You don’t have to accomplish everything at once ie.: when your family is young such as doing clinical work, teaching, chairing committees and conducting research etc. You don’t have to do it all, nor do it all at once. Your career will catch up. 

As a women I found it hard to put myself forward for a position, to volunteer or apply for a promotion unless I felt expert or confident in my abilities to achieve or take on the role. I would sometimes take on less valued roles.  Leaders & ally’s should look for opportunities for women colleagues & ask women to take on important meaningful roles. I now encourage women to lean in, to own their competency & contributions.”


Learn more about Canadian Women’s Physician’s Day here.