My father was infected with polio at the age of 28. He spent a year in the hospital, progressing from wheelchair, to full-length lock braces, to below the knee supports. He was never able to walk unaided without crutches and braces for the rest of his life. He was able to support his family, but although it was very difficult, he never gave up.
After witnessing the pervasive effects of catastrophic disease on my father and our family, I decided to become a doctor. From age five, I was determined to practice medicine, and no disparaging comments or other barriers ever diverted me from that goal.
Fortunately, I grew up at a time of increasing opportunities for women. I attended university on scholarship and was accepted into the University of Toronto. I married young and my husband and I went through medical school and residency together, ultimately training in the US. I started out in internal medicine and was fascinated by the effects of hormones on almost every organ in a woman’s body. I thought I would become an endocrinologist after I finished my internal medicine residency.
One year into my training in internal medicine, I changed course to become an expert in an area of female medicine. So I chose obstetrics and gynecology, a specialty where I could offer both medical and surgical solutions. Using my hands and my brains appealed to me.
After more than 20 years of practicing obstetrics and having 4 children of my own , I gave up obstetrics and confined my practice to gynecology. It was difficult at first to fill the void. But I expanded my expertise to managing problems that occur in maturing women as a result of the shifting hormonal balance that occurs with menopause. Back to the hormones once again! So many clinical questions that needed to be answered and women seeking treatment for symptoms who were denied effective hormonal options after the first publications of the Women’s Health Initiative.
I have always been driven to be in the space where knowledge is moving ahead. Always at an academic institution, I was surrounded by teaching and research. Guided by my own internal compass and my need to be the best I could be, I finally gained promotion in 2007 to Associate Professor. The climb was tough, but I did it on my schedule. I didn’t give up, even after being passed over the first time around. My persistence paid off.
As I gained more knowledge, I increasingly encountered younger women patients who had problems associated with early onset menopause. This led to the development of the Premature Ovarian Insufficiency clinic and a unique interdisciplinary team which led to international connections. Creating the cutting edge of patient care in a distinct patient population drove me further.
I now have external recognition which has come from my many invitations to speak nationally and internationally. In 2009 I received the “Practitioner of the Year” award from the North American Menopause Association. And I am head of the national gynaecology guidelines committee for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and involved in clinical research.
I have been a teaching physician for almost 30 years. My trajectory has been slow but steady, but no less rewarding. I am driven by my own intellectual curiosity and by my enormous feeling of obligation to give my patients the best that I have and to teach the new generation of physicians the knowledge I have acquired.
My father was a brilliant man, my mother his practical and industrious support. They imparted to me the need to be internally driven, to enjoy achievement, and the need to love my job. And I do. My dream is to come back in 100 years and see the answers to the clinical questions we don’t know. I know how astounded I would be. But I also would think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I am a woman who needs to know and problem-solve. I will continue to pursue this knowledge to satisfy myself and more importantly to help my patients. I will keep moving forward the care for women, one woman at a time.