Women in Medicine and Medical Leadership | Dr. Chris Hall

In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, Island Health is profiling some of the women in medicine and medical leadership positions that help deliver excellent health care and lead our organization. Dr. Chris Hall is a full-time executive medical director and part-time emergency physician in Victoria. A former intensive care nurse, flight physician and ski instructor, Dr. Hall shared her thoughts about her career, women in medicine and her greatest extravagance.  

What do you love about practicing medicine?

“I love the ability to make a real difference in someone’s life, in the moment. There are times when we don’t a have a cure, but we can offer information or reassurance and I find that rewarding.”

Why did you choose your field of speciality?

“As the saying goes, emergency medicine is the most interesting 30 minutes in medicine. I see the absolutely undifferentiated patient – I have to determine whatever is happening to a person in that exact moment and I am not working off someone else’s diagnosis. The adrenaline is exciting and it is truly interesting work to figure out what to do now to change the trajectory of a patient.

What experiences have you had as a woman in medicine?

“I’m lucky that I haven’t outwardly had a significant amount of career bias against me from the medical system. But, I wear a lab coat over scrubs when I work clinically and I introduce myself as Doctor Hall, not Chris Hall, to self-identify as a physician to patients, who do make assumptions sometimes. My male colleague can introduce himself by name only but I take steps to ensure that people know who I am and what role I play in their care. I teach female students and residents to do the same. This helps mitigate potential bias and informs people gently without confrontation.”

“Overall, I choose not embrace the gender bias in how I think about my own life and career; it has been irrelevant to me on the personal level. I am certainly aware that it exists but being a woman in medicine has not perceptibly altered my career progress and I’m happy about that. You don’t have to hold back if you’re female, just go for it. Go for it all.”

What are your professional interests and notable achievements?

“I completed my entire clerkship year on crutches after I blew my knee apart on the ski hill. A very devastating injury from the dumbest little fall ever. That all took a fair bit of intestinal fortitude – not just rotations and clomping around the hospital but I also lived in a 4-floor walk-up. Crutches for a year is no joke! Rehabbing after a year of non weight bearing is also no joke.”

“Outside of clinical medicine, I am one of very few researchers in the world looking at excited delirium syndrome and its role in sudden unexpected death in the prehospital setting. I’ve been an expert witness on three continents and authored one of the largest databases in the world on police use of force. I am still very active in that field of research and travel frequently to enable knowledge translation of our data to people who need it day to day.”

“Inside the walls of the hospital, I have an interest in the management of the acute stimulant intoxication patients and am happy to see the first order set for this being developed here. As executive medical director, I work to ensure medical staff have a voice in our strategic plans for health care in Island Health. I get to hear from a wide variety of our medical staff members and work with them to be integrated in our planning and goals and our service delivery. It’s a terrific job.”

Where did you complete medical school and residency?

“I’m from the University of Calgary Medical School, Class of 1996, the “Sifaka class” (A Sifaka is an arboreal lemur, native to Madagascar, that is useless on land, U of C med students are named by their preceding class to reflect their worst traits).  I was extremely fortunate to complete my FRCP in Emergency Medicine at the University of Calgary too, and I am proud to say that I was exceptionally well trained in my specialty.”

What hobbies or activities do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

“I am a determined but not gifted golfer. I also enjoy my two Sheepadoodles, Cooper and Murphy. My husband and I love to travel, and we have a large group of friends who are a lifeline – we have regular ‘family’ dinners together. I still love to ski, although it’s not quite the same level as when my friends and I were teaching skiing and getting 100 days on the ski hill every year.  Those were the days.  Coolest I’ve ever been in my life.”

What is your greatest achievement?

“Becoming a physician.”

What is your perfect happiness?

“Being on vacation with really good friends and my husband, of course. We spent several weeks picking olives on a friend’s farm in Tuscany for two years in a row. That is nirvana and everyone should have a chance to do it.”

What is your most marked characteristic?

“Genuine optimism, but others would say I talk a lot. A lot. “

What is your greatest extravagance?

“Dog day care and really nice shoes.”

What is your greatest regret?

“Not pursuing medicine earlier. University wasn’t financially open to me when I was finishing high school. Later, as an intensive care nurse, I didn’t think I could afford to leave my job to pursue medicine. My mentor, Dr. Merrill Knudtson for whom I was then a cardiology research nurse said, ‘no one can afford medical school, Chris, so that can’t hold you back.”

What was your best job?

“Being a flight physician in Alberta in a big red helicopter; I miss it daily. Best. Job. Ever.”

Which living person do you most admire?

“People working minimum wage who still manage to raise civil children and Michelle Obama, seriously.”

If you could change one thing about yourself?

“I’d be naturally fit. I’ve done exactly one Tough Mudder and if I were 30 it would be my new sport. But, I’m just not 30 anymore….so there’s a Peloton bike instead.”