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National Physicians’ Day 2020 – Dr. Chloé Lemire-Elmore

To pay tribute to the many dedicated physicians practicing at Island Health and in honour of National Physicians’ Day, we are profiling some of the doctors leading innovations and delivering high quality service to show the human behind the profession.

Dr. Chloé Lemire-Elmore practices Hospitalist Medicine in the South Island, where she is the VGH Hospitalist Medical Lead and Co-Division Head.

  • Why did you chose medicine and your speciality/field?

I would say medicine chose me as much as I chose medicine.  There are no doctors in my family, my father was in fact a Jesuit and my mother a nun, and both went on to become teachers when they left the Order to marry. And I did not have much exposure to doctors growing up, aside from routine check-ups. However, I have always been driven by a sense of social justice. I studied International Administration, with a dream of getting a position with the UN or Red Cross in a humanitarian role. I had the opportunity to do an internship with International department of the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna (an IFRC member). One of my mentors there, the program director the Indian subcontinent, had started her career as a nurse doing front-line relief work. I am not much of an office person, so thought that sounded like a good route to go, as opposed to more studies in administration or politics.  I went on to get a nursing degree, worked in Ghana, Guatemala, as well as in my home town of Vancouver at St Paul’s Hospital. That’s where medicine caught my eye: I was taken by it, by the hospitalist doctors and the CTU teams we worked with, how they combined science and problem solving, with compassion and caring, with the ultimate goal of helping others.   

  • What is most meaningful to you about your work in medicine?

The shared sense of humanity I feel with my colleagues and patients, and that I get to work with like-minded people to help solve problems and alleviate suffering. I have always loved science and math, but also enjoy human interaction and the well-being of others. Medicine brings these together in a most wonderful way.

  • What are your professional interests and notable achievements?

I really like Hospitalist Medicine – I love the breadth of it, the range of conditions and ages. It is a team-based specialty, you are but one piece of a much bigger puzzle. I like the pursuit of excellence and always seeking to do our best.

In terms of accomplishments, I like to create things. In my early 20’s I helped establish a recycling program at an agricultural cooperative in Brazil which benefitted the poor living in the favelas of Lavras, in Minas Gerais.  I co-created UBC’s first international nursing curriculum while I was there, and was the founding president of the Canadian Association for International Nursing. I was the founding co-director of the Inpatient MAiD Consult Service in Island Health.  I have two children – they are both still alive with all four limbs. I consider that big accomplishment as well.

  • Who or what do you turn to for inspiration?

That depends on when and what for. I am and will always be inspired by my father and late mother. I was blessed to be born into a family with two incredible, kind, thoughtful, honest, wise, hardworking parents. My father has a double Masters in Theology and Philosophy, and my mother was a highly competent, well-rounded, musical and artistic woman with degrees in teaching and music. They both demonstrated servitude and kindness in how they went about life, they were not materialistic with a strong moral compass. For example, my mother helped single moms learn how to cook healthy inexpensive meals and balance their household budgets.  She founded the Victoria Philharmonic Choir, sang, played the organ, started a Victorian home interior design company and was an active master gardener. My father has taught me to always do what is right, to remove self-interest and ego from the equation.

Professionally, I have been inspired by different people at different times.  During my nursing career and in medicine I have worked with impressively smart, grounded, well rounded, and loving people. They have been great mentors and confidantes, and many are still “in the wings”.  Outside of work, I have a circle of close friends whom I love and admire, and learn all sorts of things from.

  • Where do you go, or what do you do, to recharge your batteries?

Outdoors. I love to garden and grow food to feed my clan, to be with my young children and family, to mountain bike, and to create: to sew, restore, and repurpose old things. I also like lying in the sun, as I listen to the sounds of life around me.

  • What is the last book or podcast you’ve enjoyed?

Do half-finished books count? Because I have three on the go… But seriously, the last one I completed and really enjoyed was Island of the Sea Woman by Lisa See. A beautiful work of historical fiction about the haenyo, the female free divers of Jeju, in S Korea.

  • What core value have you most relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Humility, hard work, and priority of the common good

  • What is a change you’ve seen to the health system over the last few months that you are eager to see sustained?

In society, the sense of solidarity and kindness to one another. The near flat lining of consumerism. Turning in towards our families and loved ones. Growing our food and being self-sustaining, baking our own bread. Using virtual platforms to connect around the world, cutting down on driving and air travel, lowering our emissions. It seems COVID has catapulted us into the 21st century and forced us to use the innovation we have had for 15 years. Even with all the loss, it has given us a chance to change and to focus on what really matters. Being alive and connected to each other and the planet.

  • What do you wish more people knew about practicing medicine?

It is hard work, but rewarding.

  • What is your hope for the future of health care in Canada?

Improved access. Work is being done to address it, but we can do better, especially for First Nations communities, recent immigrants, people living rurally or those socially disadvantaged.   

More upstream focus, to prevent chronic illness through healthy living, activity and diet. Community initiatives, get children moving and away from the screens.

Reduce waste. We go through so much disposable plastic in the hospital. We need to find safe, viable and sustainable alternatives.