Like most of you I enjoyed Sarah Cooper’s savage tweets and parodies of Donald Trump during the lockdown. From “How to Testing” to “How to Empty Seat,” she has entertained people around the world during difficult times.
But her tweets also got me thinking about feminism and the female role models I have had throughout my life and medical career.
Currently, the most recognizable feminist “role model” (stop laughing) in Canada is best known for firing our first Indigenous Attorney General and forcing out of Cabinet a physician who might been useful going through the COVID global pandemic. He used his power and privilege to prevent them from speaking the truth about what actually happen. He also yelled at a racialized MP who had chosen to step down, admonishing her for not appreciating all he, a self-admitted privileged white male, had done for her. And his socks.
This doesn’t seem right. Clearly, I am experiencing feminism differently. If so, it seems like there is still lots of learning WE can do. I needed to learn more.
So I did. In the process, I read and heard a lot about something called the “gender pay gap.” I didn’t know a lot about it, so I asked some colleagues of mine to explain it to me and what could possibly be done to remedy the issue.
So instead of looking to our political leaders to set the example, I decided to look back at my own life and career instead.
First, I am very proud of the fact the Section of Palliative Medicine currently boasts only the second ever (damn you Genetics) all-female Executive for a clinical section. As Section Chair for seven years, I have never had more confidence in the future leadership of our group. This executive was not contrived or selected like some associations or cartels. All three ran in open elections for our Section leadership. Although we have had some great leaders for our Section in the past, our future has never been brighter.
One of my absolute favourite memories of the pandemic lockdown was Dr. Wendy Kennette doing an Executive teleconference from the Windsor Mobile Field House at St. Clair College in full PPE. Nothing more needs to be said about her single-minded determination and commitment to compassionate patient care. Except, it should be acknowledged that she also led the charge to create Windsor’s first permanent inpatient palliative medicine program at Windsor Regional Hospital. Dr. Pamela Liao has been exceptional in her first year as Section Chair. She routinely leads from the front and regularly organized and participated in webinars to inform and educate members during the early days of COVID. Finally, Dr. Patricia Valcke has stepped in as a first-time member of the Executive in the role Secretary/Treasurer after relocation from Saskatchewan to Ontario. She has hit the ground running as the new co-chair of the Schulich School of Medicine Enhanced Skills Program for Palliative Medicine, taking over from Dr. Sheri Bergeron. I look forward to her bright future in leadership as well.
Next, like most little boys, my first role model was my mom. She recently retired at the age of 75. She broke her leg in May, spent three months in rehab, most of that non-weight bearing, yet walked New York City by Thanksgiving (Canadian, not American for the record). After all, she’s Dutch. Wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen, as they say.
I had many wonderful female teachers growing up. But during elementary school, it was Helen, a fellow student, who pushed me. We were rivals in elementary school, friends and colleagues in high school.
In university, it was Lisa, now a palliative care doctor of all things, who encouraged me to switch from Psychology to Neuroscience as an undergrad, and that maybe I should write the MCAT one summer, just for laughs.
In medical school, it was Bertha who took a chance on a woefully unprepared candidate who showed up to his interview high (as a kite!) on cough syrup. It was also Danielle who joined UWO MEDS 2003 needing to change the world while the rest of us just hoped to pass. It was my pragmatic roommate Laurie, who helped me to put life’s setbacks into perspective.
It was Charmaine, my first mentor in palliative care, who showed me that palliative care is not a job, its a calling. It was Janet who encouraged me to give palliative care a second chance following my first experience with burnout.
It was Carol, as executive director for the Hospice of Windsor, who taught me how to lead from behind. She never treated a single patient in her entire career, but she put dozens of people in a position to succeed, to the benefits of thousands. It is Colleen who has kept our Hospice organization afloat in turbulent times.
I think of Jane, whom I met ever so briefly at the CMA in Vancouver 2016. She stepped up to make a difference and stepped away with her grace and dignity still intact. And Jody, who exemplifies integrity in times when it is sorely lacking in Canadian politics.
I think of Catherine who is the smartest woman I know, thus giving her only half the credit she deserves. Secretly I think she enjoys letting us spin our wheels with a problem she had the answer to an hour ago.
I think of Nikki, who is the sister I never had, if you don’t count the seven I already do. Nikki is gonna murder me for calling her Nikki. Probably on a Friday. (Hey Nik, it’s Sohail here – just a reminder, that Darren calling you Nikki, I would NEVER EVER do that!)
I look at Jacinda who didn’t just flatten the curve, she levelled it like an All-Black in a foul mood.
I look at Hayley, who seems destined to be an even better doctor than she was a hockey superstar. I think of Menon and Kim who inspired me the same as Felix and Marty.
It is all of the nurses, staff, volunteers and caregivers at the bedside of our palliative patients, night and day, without compliant, without fail.
It is my wife who was diagnosed with cancer at 29 and kicked its ass by the time she was 30, got married at 31 (to me, just in case you were wondering) and gave birth to a miracle child at 34. She comes from a family of ass-kickers.
So, when people talk about the gender pay gap, I wonder, why that is. Because its 2020, after all. And much like the evidence for the benefits of palliative care, the avalanche of evidence for the gender pay gap is embarrassing. The benign neglect to this problem is also similar.
Like all things, you need to start by educating yourself. Here are some good places to start:
What’s driving the gender pay gap? (CMAJ, 2020)
Make sure to keep your eyes out for OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill and Dr. Michelle Cohen’s upcoming article in CMAJ, coming soon. As well, a Report to Council will be making its way to OMA members soon. I humbly suggest giving it a read when it does.
Finally, for the men reading this: This is not about taking something away from you. It is about giving to them what they have deserved all along.
Darren Cargill MD