Dr Flordeliz (Gigi) Osler

Can you tell us more about your studies and your professional career?

Why did you choose medicine? ENT surgery?

I think, like most people who choose to go in medicine, you go in with an altruistic desire to help others and to serve our fellow human beings. This  led me to choose more high school science classes so I could apply for pre-med in university and eventually go to medical school.

Later, when I went into medicine, I thought originally I had wanted to do psychiatry, but as I got more exposure to the different specialties, I fell in love with surgery and realized that I wanted to be a surgeon. I completed medical school from 1998 to 2002, and it was a time when there were not many women going into surgery. Consequently, there were not a lot of female role models. This led me to look more into surgical subspecialities and I fell in love with ENT (Otorhinolaryngology) simply because of the elegance of the surgeries. 

If there were any, what were the impacts of being a woman on your career?

Looking back to when I was in medical school – when I  look at the breakdown of women versus men in my class – I don’t think we were at 50/50; yet as a woman, I  did not feel like a minority. But as I worked in general surgery and in ENT, I did see less female surgeons. Medical student and residency is always a busy and challenging time regardless of your gender or your background. 

After discussing with a friend of mine who had interviewed another doctor, she highlighted that she found it more difficult to be a person of colour than to be a woman in the medical field. Do you have anything to say about that?

It is an issue, especially in the last few years. Socio-culturally throughout Canada, there have been increases in racism and bigotry. This continues to be top of mind for anybody who’s a person of colour. Geopolitically, we see a rise of nationalism and populism, ultra-conservatives and the ultra-right. With that often comes this delineation of like versus non-like– who’s like me and who’s not like me? 

As Canadians, I think we value and promote  diversity, whether you’re born here or whether you immigrate here. Particularly in medicine, I think it’s important we have diversity within the workforce and that we’re sensitive to some of these outside issues at play.  We must continue to stand up for each other. Everybody needs to feel safe and included. The patients we serve are not all one homogenous group –we have more diversity in our patients than ever before.. We need to have tolerance and promote inclusion and diversity so that we can continue to provide the best care for our patients.

Have you observed a change of mentality regarding the place of women in surgical specialities since the beginning of your residency? 4:30

Over the years, especially as I look at my years as a surgical resident, there has been a positive culture change. Now, being a woman in surgery or in a surgical residency program is much more normalized than it was decades ago. Back when I was a surgical resident, with not a lot of female role models in surgery, you stood out because you were a woman. My co-resident used to say you had « to work twice has hard for half the credit », but it never bothered me because I loved  the OR, loved being a surgeon and loved hard work. In Winnipeg, there were a few practicing female ENT surgeons and I like to believe they paved the way for more women in the specialty. Since then, I’ve seen some years where general surgery residency programs have an equal number of men and women, and in our residency program, ENT, we’ve also had some years where it has been gender equal. Now more women than ever are currently going into surgical specialties and I think it highlights a general change of our medical culture becoming more diverse and more inclusive.

How did you find the balance between your personal and your professional life? Do you think that women still take on the bulk of household responsibilities? 

Some studies have shown that around the world, women do two and half times more unpaid domestic and child care work than men. You may think that it would be different in medicine, but the numbers are about the same. And it is not just child care responsibilities because when it comes to caring for loved ones, whether it’s parents, in-laws, sisters, brothers, etc, it is often the women who take on those responsibilities. 

So we should be asking ”How can we make medicine more supportive and more inclusive for everyone, not just women ?”. When it comes to maternity and paternity leaves, I believe we are improving, but we could still be more inclusive and talk about family leave so doctors could also take time off for other family reasons. 

But right now, any type of leave often bring staffing problems. This is a system issue that needs to be looked at and this is why we should start having this conversation. 

After being suggested to run as CMA (Canadian Medical Association) president-elect,  “[your] initial response was ‘Me? Why me? Who would vote for me?'” Would you care to elaborate more on this initial reaction?

The CMA presidency rotates between the different provinces and territories. In 2016, it was Manitoba’s turn to elect the future president-elect. I had always been a CMA member but running for this position had never been something that had crossed my mind. I was doing work on committees on physician health, I had a busy practice, I had roles within our ENT department, but I had never thought to go into medical politics. Therefore, when I was asked to run for president-elect, I was blown away. My initial reaction was “Me? Why me? Who’s gonna vote for me?”. Part of that was imposter syndrome. Part of that was not knowing that anyone, as long as you’re a CMA member in good standing, could run for this position. I thought you had to be past president of a medical association or on the board of directors, both of which I wasn’t. 

I talked with the person who asked me to run and  with other trusted colleagues; they said “ I think you’d be great, because you believe in this and that and you’re passionate about this and you represent this”. Hearing that feedback reflected back to me by trusted colleagues, helped me overcome that imposter syndrome. I realized I did have accomplishments and people would vote for me because of the issues I believed in. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about it. The thought of running for president-elect terrified me, the election process terrified me and having to take this high-profile position terrified me. But by the end of the night, I realized the opportunity to have this platform, to advocate for positive change and to be a role model, was more exciting than terrifying. By the end of the morning, my excitement and my passion were greater than my fear. By the end of the morning, the “Why me?” had become “Why not me?”

Why did you choose to get involved specifically with the CMA?

The opportunity for a Manitoba doctor to be the CMA president only comes around every 16-19 years. It just seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity that coincided with the right time in my career and personal life. It represented the opportunity to have a voice at the national level and a platform to advocate for what medical students, residents, doctors and our patients need. I realized that this was an opportunity that might not come again in my lifetime and I knew that I would regret it if I did not run this election. So I ran. 

What issues did you decide to advocate for during your presidency? Why did you choose to advocate for physicians’ health and wellness?

I entered this role wanting to be a positive agent for change and knew that  physician health and wellness was an issue. It was a topic we had been talking about at a local and provincial level and it was just starting to ascend to the national level. I knew that if elected, physician health and wellness could be an issue that I would advocate for. Because if we doctors are not healthy, we cannot provide the best care for our patients. At the CMA, we have data from our 2017 National Physician Health study that shows that women, residents and early career physicians are at higher risk of burnout. To me, that means  we still need more discussion about making our medical culture and our training environments more positive and supportive for everybody.

As a woman, what are some of the challenges that you had to overcome during your presidency? 

The CMA was, and is, extremely supportive and I am proud the say that CMA’s president-elect is also a woman, Dr. Ann Collins. The presidency was a demanding role that brought challenges regarding balancing my professional and personal life. Again, it came down to balancing workloads. I think it’s extremely important to keep having this conversation with all colleagues, both female and male, in order to improve our personal and professional lives. 

Being the first woman of colour to be at the head of the CMA is significant, especially taking into consideration the importance of the organization. What does it represent for you to be the first woman of colour to take the seat as president of the CMA?

That is a really interesting question, because, honestly, it was not something that I thought was novel or unique or important about me. But when I became president, people — both men and women, but especially young women of colour– would come up to me and say they had never seen someone that looked like them in such a high profile leadership role. My  CMA presidency mattered to them. Being in this role has shown me the importance of representation and I’ll often say that you can’t be what you can’t see.  

Being in this role has shown me our own unconscious biases. I point  out that despite the diversity in our medical students, residents and physicians, I am an exception – being  only the eighth female, the first female surgeon, and the first woman of colour to be CMA president.

At Laval University, we are presented with statistics of the different student groups, which are compared to the general population. Findings show that the students in medical school at Laval University represent the population of Quebec in terms of ethnic diversity. However, the socioeconomic status of students are generally not representative of Quebec’s general population.

Socioeconomic status has become an interesting topic  in regards to medical school admissions. How can we encourage applicants from different socioeconomic backgrounds? But to do that, you really have to go further back in  education and go even further back to different communities. In some communities, for example, do they have housing? Do they have food security? Do they have potable water? Are they getting the appropriate education ? Do they have role models when they’re in junior high, or high school? 

Did you have any role models along your journey? Were there any women of colour in your field you could identify with?

At first when I decided to go into medicine, my role model was my dad who was a physician. As I progressed in medicine, most of my role models became female surgeons because they showed me you could be an ENT surgeon, have a fulfilling career, have a family, and have a teaching position at the university hospital. When I started my practice as an ENT, my role models became those women surgeons who paved the way for the rest of us.

Recently the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) was at Parliament Hill to discuss access to contraception throughout Canada. When it comes to sexual health, do you feel that we are getting better and that we are actually giving the services and the health needs of our population? How can we as women in medicine advocate for that?

Women’s sexual health and reproductive rates need to be protected. It is a health issue and it is a health right. We can’t let politics or ideology influence and restrict women’s sexual health and reproductive rights. 

What would you tell girls in medical school in order to encourage them to take their place and to get involved in their career?

I think it’s a difficult decision and the earlier you have to decide, the more difficult it is. Often medical students have to decide on a residency at a time when they might not have had exposure to all the different specialties out there. My advice is find something that you love to do. For example, if you love surgery and being in the OR and being a surgeon, then that’s what you love to do. It would be a shame for somebody to be counselled or advised not to go into a specific specialty because of their gender. 

Medicine is hard. It’s hard work. There are a lot of external pressures that can make people feel burnt out. If you’re in a career where you don’t love it and all of these external pressures are present, you may find yourself not liking what you do. You may find yourself feeling burnt out. When you’re feeling burnt out it is helpful to  dig deep down into yourself and find joy and meaning in your work .