Pauline Henry: becoming Chief of Laboratory Medicine at Michael Garron Hospital
Dr. Pauline Henry, Assistant Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, has recently become the Chief and Program Medical Director of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH).
To celebrate her new role, she talks to us about her career path into Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
When did you realise you wanted to have a career in science?
I knew I loved science when, in grade two, I dreamed of wearing a lab coat in the future. At the time, I didn’t have a specific role model in the field of science, but with both of my parents in the teaching profession, the value of education and a love for learning was instilled in me early on.
It was the biological sciences that attracted me the most, and I engaged in several science-orientated extracurricular activities in high school. There was never any question as to what I was going to choose to study in university.
I did my Honors Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology and biotechnology at McMaster University which was a relatively new program at the Undergraduate level.
Being introduced to the innovation and excitement of this rapidly advancing field was the reason that I was motivated to defer my offer of acceptance into U of T’s MD program after three years of undergraduate study.
This was an ideal situation as the deferral allowed me to really enjoy completing a pressure-free honours year including a senior research project. This year of study confirmed my desire to pursue a career as a clinician-scientist and led me to apply for and join the MD/PhD program stream instead.
What interested you about pathology?
Pathology appealed to me because it seemed like a fascinating branch of medicine that drew on many principles of basic science in its practice, and it also seemed like a natural fit when I returned to medical school after completing my PhD training.
When I requested to be with a Pathologist for my “Day of the Doctor” experience which was a chance to shadow a clinician during medical school, I’ll never forget the look on the medical education coordinator’s face – no one had ever requested to shadow a Pathologist before!
After that experience, I knew that Pathology was the subspecialty choice for me. I subsequently did several electives in Pathology and then completed LMP’s Residency Training Program in Anatomical Pathology (AP).
You’re now Chief and Program Medical Director of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Michael Garron Hospital – how did that come about?
I started medical school wanting to become a clinician-scientist, but during my AP residency training I started to realize that I found more personal satisfaction and enjoyment engaging in the teaching compared to the research side of academic medicine. I think this interest was recognized when I was I was appointed as the first Chief resident of the U of T AP program.
When I applied for a position at Michael Garron Hospital (Toronto East General Hospital at the time), it was a community teaching hospital that did not offer pathology residency training opportunities. I was very excited to introduce a community elective pathology rotation to the hospital which I think was part of why my application to become staff was successful.
After nearly ten years in the Department of Laboratory Medicine, I sought a leadership role and was fortunate to be chosen as the Chief and Program Medical Director.
What is your role and how has it changed becoming Chief?
For LMP, I have undertaken a number of roles in the Residency Program Committee and have become involved in new faculty selection committee work. At Michael Garron Hospital, as Chief, I am part of the Department of Laboratory Medicine leadership team responsible for ensuring laboratory service quality.
My role as Chief is still very new, but the biggest change for me has been how diversified my role has become. I have to be an active participant in many more aspects of laboratory operations than I ever was as a staff pathologist. The learning curve is steep, and right now I’m engaged in understanding the challenges the laboratory faces, the changes that would be desirable, and the obstacles to change.
There are also many more meeting and committee obligations which leaves much less uninterrupted time to complete my clinical service responsibilities. It’s a balance I have yet to master in the early days, but hopefully, during my term over the next five years, I'll figure it out!
What do you love about your work?
Because Pathology is a mostly non-patient facing specialty in medicine, it is typically perceived by the public and even other medical staff as one where interaction with other people is uncommon and not particularly important, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While I very much enjoy the aspect of the job that involves producing a pathology report that becomes part of the patient’s care, what I love the most about my work is the interaction and collaboration with other people in the laboratory and the patient care team which is an essential part of doing this job well.
What I have also come to appreciate and enjoy in my new role as Chief is engagement with leadership in the hospital. Michael Garron Hospital has been a leader in the COVID-19 response in our region. The foresight, planning, and innovation on the part of the executive, physicians, and allied health care leaders have been exemplary and I’m trying to learn as much as I can from these leaders.
What advice would you give to those following in your footsteps?
I would say to anyone following in my footsteps that you will get through those tough, frustrating days of your training. Enjoy the entire experience and personal growth of being immersed in the pursuit of knowledge and skills in these institutes of higher learning as you develop your career.
Remember to maintain the confidence you demonstrated to get to where you are because you deserve to be there. Never let self-doubt or imposter syndrome slow you down.
Black History month in Laboratory Medicine, featuring Dr. Pauline Henry
#IamMGH - meet Dr. Pauline Henry, an interview on the Michael Garron Hospitial website