In advance of International Women’s Day on March 8, Medical and Academic Affairs is profiling some of the women in medicine and medical leadership positions that help deliver excellent health care and lead our organization. Dr. Jennifer Grace is a general internal medicine specialist in Campbell River. She is also Island Health’s executive medical director for GEO 1. Dr. Grace shared her thoughts about medical leadership, the joys of practicing in Campbell River and how she may be an organic farmer if she weren’t practicing medicine.
What do you love about practicing medicine?
“I feel grateful that I get to hear people’s stories, help diagnose their problems and explain to them how I can help. I get to help them renew their confidence in their body by removing some of the mystery of medicine. It’s really a fantastic job as you get to do so many different things as a physician – it opens so many doors.”
Why did you choose your field of speciality?
“Growing up in Williams Lake, I wanted to be veterinarian. I didn’t think I could become a doctor and had not considered it but while earning my bachelors degree in dietetics at the University of British Columbia, I saw my peers apply to medical school and recognized that I had that potential. I chose to practice general internal medicine because I loved so many aspects of medicine that I could not pick just one area to focus but I knew that I wanted to pursue more of an intellectual, rather than procedural, specialty.”
What experiences have you had as a woman in medicine?
“I find that women in medicine do have to prove ourselves more than men, but it is getting better. I give credit to my parents. I was raised in a family of three girls and we were never raised in a gender-specific way, I always believed I could do anything I wanted to do. Except my mother had some dated-ideas about math. I was lucky to have some strong leaders advocate for my success - two female mentors in particular who have always inspired me: Dr. Vickie Bernstein, a cardiologist at the Vancouver General and Dr. Anita Palepu, a general internist who does both clinical and research at St. Paul’s Hospital.
“Some dated stereotypes still exist. For example, women in leadership positions are characterized as loud, outspoken ‘dragon lady-types” but men with the same qualities are seen as great leaders. I work around it but its getting better overall.”
What are your professional interests and notable achievements?
“Almost by accident I became interested in clinical stroke management. When I was a resident practicing at Vancouver General Hospital, Dr. Philip Teal was often in the emergency room promoting tPA and stroke. Dr. Teal later invited me to attend a national meeting in Montreal to discuss stroke care in Canada. I accepted the invitation and recognized the role internal medicine has in stroke care. I developed a stroke management order set for internal medicine that saw patient outcomes improve dramatically. I have become a non-neurologist leader in for stroke care including delivery of tPA and development of the North Island Stroke Program.
“I am interested in team-based care and am passionate about open transparent discussions about care with patients and families. I believe that the patient’s voice matters and that it is my job to help them understand where they are in the care continuum.”
“In medical leadership, you have to know who you are. This is something I am working on. Know what excites you and what pushes you. You also have to listen to others and empower your team.”
Where did you complete medical school and residency?
“I completed medical school at the University of British Columbia in 1996. While I was working for UBC at the Vancouver General Hospital, my partner at the time was practicing at Campbell River General Hospital so I came over frequently. I felt really useful practicing in a smaller community. I have a great relationship with my colleagues, which is harder to get in a larger hospital. Campbell River has really progressive medical community that punches above their weight with many innovative programs.”
What hobbies or activities do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
“I am a farmer. I raise chickens, dairy goats and sheep. I can make raw milk cheeses and goats milk soap. I am also an avid horseback rider and have three Andalusian horses. Something that is much easier in Campbell River than in the Lower Mainland. I also enjoy hiking, skiing and have participated in two Tough Mudder races.”
What would you do if you weren’t in medicine?
“I’d do something equally as busy, probably be an organic farmer, but I’ve identified as a doctor for so long that it’s hard to imagine not being one.”