The halls buzz with an energy that is unique to hospital settings, combining the beep of monitors and the interruption of overhead pages, with quiet conversations and consults taking place between members of the care team.
“If you don’t laugh, you cry. The tragedies we have to see and deal with every day can be overwhelming to carry alone. Within the team, people want to talk about cases, to learn from cases, and to process and get through an experience,”said Dr. Cheryl ffrench, emergency physician at HSC adult emergency department.
“小事情有助于让我们组的支持ed,” added Dr. ffrench, who is also program director for the department’s residency and simulation programs. “This is a very supportive group, across physicians, allied health, our nursing colleagues, and support staff. In Emergency medicine, you can get very focused on your own situation but around you everyone is trying to be very aware of situations where they may need to offer some help.”
That support is obvious in the interactions between members of the team as well as physically on the department’s walls, where expressions of gratitude are displayed in recognition of the work and effort of colleagues. The initiative, which began as a response to the team’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic, will likely be permanent based on the impact it has had.
“We feature our colleagues, from housekeeping, to security, to paramedics, and so on. Everyone who contributes to the ED,” said Dr. Chau Pham, who started the recognition as part of her role as the department’s director of professional sustainability and wellness. “This is our extended work family and this is a small way for us to say thank you and to highlight what makes each of them spectacular.”
“People know when you are on fire with your profession, they can feel it. It goes beyond just being great physicians. Women try to see each other’s value, their strength and weaknesses. As a result, we bring so much to healing, not just for our patients but for our colleagues and our teams. That’s what I love about being a woman in medicine.”Dr. Sheila Peters, Emergency Physician, HSC Winnipeg’s Adult Emergency Department.
Pham, an emergency physician at HSC since 2010, is a passionate advocate for building and supporting a close team. That dynamic has been particularly important throughout the pandemic as the physician members of the team working today (including five women) are also “mom” to a combined 12 children between the ages of two and 11.
“Behind every successful woman is a village of other women who support them and I think that is very true in our case,” said Pham. “Our job doesn’t stop when we arrive home so having female colleagues who can relate to that is something I’m very grateful for.”
Throughout the pandemic, this tight-knit group has provided both professional and personal support to one another, covering shifts when someone has become ill or required to isolate, or when the demands of their children’s virtual learning needed their attention.
“One of the things our physician group did from the beginning was to be very careful about exposure of our families, making sacrifices on the personal side so we – and our families – didn’t get sick, so that we could come to work,” added Dr. ffrench who reappeared with the now infamous Clementine’s bag.
“我很幸运拥有一群女性colleagues who all really support one another and get what it means to be a female physician, and a mom, but we also work with an incredible group of male physicians who also have to juggle work, kids and other professional hats. Everyone in the group supports each other and we are really lucky in that way,” said ffrench.
The team hasn’t always had such strong female representation. The HSC ED is a success story, demonstrating the importance of mentorship and support, which has led to significant growth in the number and proportion of female physicians working in the department.
When Dr. Schindle began working at HSC in 2009, she was the third female on staff. There are now 16, with another joining the team very soon.
“When I first started, I could go weeks without working with another female physician and now some days, there are only female physicians working, or days like today with six or seven of us,” said Schindle.
Dr. Jill Geurts, an emergency physician who has worked at HSC since 2012 agrees. Her early working experience mirrored that of Schindle, making the dynamic of this team – and the support of her female colleagues – something she is very grateful for.
“There is almost always another woman on shift that you can connect with, bounce things off, but we know we are lucky,” said Geurts. “There are other services, other sites that don’t have that same opportunity so we’ve tried to extend our connection out to other specialties to offer them the same kind of support.”
That support is opening doors and offering advice to the next generation of female physicians as well. Members of the team participate in informal gatherings with female residents, offering them the opportunity to hear directly from women who have come before them.
“We have all been through residency at different times and there are things that we have experienced or seen that were likely influenced by the fact that we are women,” said Geurts. “With a few years of experience under our belts, we’re taking the opportunity to say to residents ‘We see you and we know there are some things that are hard. We have been there too and here are some things that worked for us’. It’s about being vulnerable and letting them know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone.”
“I first ran into Dr. Lee when I was in medical school,” said Dr. Sheila Peters, an emergency physician in her 25钍year at HSC. “She had this uncanny ability to make a rock talk. She gave time and space to everyone she encountered and let them feel comfortable being vulnerable. The result was that they would give her the information that she needed in order to take care of them.”
“Observing her, you were like ‘this is a gift, this is magical’. I really looked up to her as a physician but also as a woman because she gave advice about home life, finding balance, relationships, you name it. She was very human and I learned from her the ability to make people feel comfortable quickly, something that I try in everything I do,” added Peters.
“You can be kind of naïve if you haven’t grown up with medicine around you,” said Dr. Katie Sullivan, an emergency physician and also the chair of the department’s competence committee. “I come from a health-oriented family and my younger years were spent accompanying my parents on their work trips to serve First Nation communities. I saw the benefits of helping and serving underserved populations and I knew I wanted to play some role.”
Sullivan initially found emergency medicine to be a chaotic environment that she didn’t really picture herself working in but when it came time for her to rotate through the ED, it was a mentor and preceptor, who opened Sullivan’s eyes and launched her into her eventual career.
Sullivan’s place (a place she shares with ffrench, Schindle, Pham, Geurts, Peters, and many other team members, both male and female, physician and non-physician is HSC Winnipeg’s Adult Emergency Department.
It’s a busy, challenging, and perhaps chaotic (at least to the outside eye) space where the sickest and most injured Manitobans seek and receive care. Providing that care, alongside a self-identified “work family” of health-care professionals, is a team of female physicians that embodies the idea of lifting each other up, supporting one another through every challenge, and celebrating every success.