Dr Annie Bouchard

Live from Luxembourg, in the circumstances of a brand new job as medical advisor for NATO, Dre Bouchard relates the course of her career from the school benches to the battlefields. 

Born in the small village of Chambord, she first joined the troops for a few years during university on account of the inherent school subvention. After four years of civilian practice of family medicine and the reaching of a thousand deliveries, the possibility of a career full of challenges, comradeship and interdisciplinary work is more then attractive for Dre Bouchard. In 2004, she joined the troops for a second time with an intense thirst for changing the world. «Everything comes from a need to make things change.» she annonces. Army just became her favorite playground to accomplish this vocation.

Graduated as a doctor in 1995, from year to year, she raised to the top of the military hierarchy, starting from captain and finally reaching the grade of colonel in 2016 and achieved a 25-years-career in 2019. This career in the canadian troops has been highlighted by numerous prides. Her biggest role as a leader in terms of quantity was the management of 500-hundred-people team in charge of the countryside ambulance on the military base of Valcartier in Quebec from 2011 to 2013. One the the most noteworthy accomplishment was in Afghanistan in 2009 as commanding officer of the medical company on ATHENA’s operation. The mission lasted seven months in a rudimental hospital in Kandahar each day coping with a lack of resources, a deficient sterility and a few centimeters of dust; that is all what it needs to enthrall Dre Bouchard’s passion. It was a mass accident management, on repeat each day, and this for months. She hurries to note how the war medicine helped in the progress of traumatology. The knowledge acquired and the compiling of a large amount of data during ATHENA have been exportable to the Occident, speeding up the evolution of medical care. Afterwards, the second relevant deployment for Dre Bouchard is the one in Haiti. Landed barely 24 hours after the earthquake in 2010, her wages had nothing to do with the paycheck, it was only about getting to change somebody’s life; it was about finding a newborn under the ruins, crying. 

 

The one who never got to stay more then two or three years in a same task, Dre bouchard talks about sedentary as a way to comfort ourselves: the antithesis of her calling. To change world, we must move. Deploy herself again in Haïti in a so close period of time of another mission was an error, but the kind of error who would make again. «You deploy in way to do your best, to give heart and soul», she underlines. While she came back from the Middle East hardly two months before, this mission in Haïti caused in Dre Bouchard serious mental health issues. Her remission, which took over a year, however printed in herself her way to see life and helped reshape herself. That is how she continued her career, more convinced than never, confident of being in the good track. Even though, following this, she succeeded to get promoted as lieutenant colonel in 2011. 

We could ask ourselves how did this five-foot-two woman, mother of four kids, got to integrate the boys club that we consider army. Her colleagues would say they literally saw her fighting through the system. From her point of view, Dre Bouchard says she never had the impression of breaking the renowned «glass ceiling». Do you have the feeling feminin ambition upsets? «No, maybe at the beginning of the 2000’s, but not at this time.» According to her, the top of the army’s line management was very masculine in the years 2010-2011 as she was lieutenant colonel. At the time of promotion as colonel in the medical group, she was the only woman. By the time of her retirement in 2019, we could count three of them. The one who has been the first woman in Canada to be colonel relates how the feminin leadership adds a brand new dimension to team work. «I believe in diversity for ideas and the ways of cooperating.» A more global vision, a sharper sense of listening and analysis skills make them positive leaders. She also mentions how her schooling in family medicine enabled her to get a holistic vision of the patient throughout her career, which is crucial even in the army.  

One thing is sure, to progress at the same rhythm as her masculine colleagues she had to do more. She admits to being bound to «do the training programs before the others, be at the top of the class, always be voluntary and make a fast comeback after pregnancies». Confessing she received lots of personal attacks about her role as  a mother linked to her deployments, she emphasized on the fact a man will be less, or even never, challenged about this. We then have to expect the career-oriented women to be pointed out, still nowadays. This is proof how the mental charge of parenthood is straightaway assigned to women. She makes a pleasure of answering back to those who challenge her about work and family balance, «if a was a man, would you ask me the same question?». 

Nonetheless by her stubbornness, she succeeded in breaking out of the mould. The place of women among the army stays precarious. They represent a low minority with a rate of 15,7% in the first reserve and the regular troops. It seems then reasonable to question the aim of canadian army to reach 25% in 2026 [1]. This doubt about the practicability of women progression in the army is maintained by Dre Bouchard: based on the inequality of features in between sexes. As the medical corps counts more then 50% women, the number drops drastically among other trade bodies way more physically challenging. «When I need to do two steps as my colleague only one, it is logical for it to be restrictive, and this is especially true in the combat trades». During her mission in Afghanistan, women enrolled in the combat trades had to wear the same equipment which means to carry more than 50kg. The ratio of effort to give based on weight and size is different. Also, the equipment itself is made for men, from the helmets, to the waistband and the bulletproof vests. We had to wait the 2000’s in the marines to see women among them, but this time for logistic reasons: the lack of feminin quarter on the boats. The same situation was repeated in the submarines. Dre Bouchard remembers a field experience while a very everyday life action became a medical problem: to urinate. At this time, the gear was not imagined to fit woman’s basic needs. She recalls how some of them just hold back to drink all day long during her rounds under the 60°C sun to not urinate. This became to cause physical problems as dehydration and urinary infections. A small problem can happen to be a major one. It seems, according to Dre Bouchard, there has been an effort to change that since last years, as the arrival of more feminine equipment and female urination devices. 

Even though we celebrate the growing feminin attendance, up to what can we do to encourage women to integrate troops? The quotas are they appropriated when we talk about army recruitment? For Dre Bouchard, answer is clear: «absolutely not !». Parity which we celebrate in the parliament and administrative business could not be as shining as an enforcement action to implant in the army. This is even more true when we swap the work environment commonly, the office, for an open-air helicopter in a state of war country and having 80kg stretchers to lift. 

This issue about quotas almost caused the loss of a canadian army mission for blue helmets un south Sudan in 2018 [2]. UN was then stating that canadian army was under the required 15% among their troops. «It is ridiculous to cancel a mission on account of quotas, this does not respect logic at all.» For Dre Bouchard, the features and the physical challenge have to be taken under consideration. Everything tends to say that combat medicine involves a supplementary issue to what is done in a hospital setting. This is restraining the feminine recruitment. The employment basin of women having competences for this kind of mission is quite limited. We are sending the most skillful. «Ordering pourcentages limits in the recruitment and lowers the quality.» In charge of making up medical teams for a mission in Mali in 2008, she affirms to get to recruit only two out of the three required women by UN. «We are looking for a quality of soldier and quotas brings a dangerosity factor which is fearsome in the field.» On another side, to respect the quotas on every mission leads feminine effectives, which are still limited, to do more turnovers. Could quotas speed up to exhaustion? Obstacles to the women increase are probably as much in the army structure as in the nature itself of the job. 

In last years, canadian army led to extensive press coverage, but for bad reasons. Alarming reports were published in 2015: 4,3% of women victims of inappropriate sexual acts against 1,1% for men, 57% of the complaints not to be filed by fear of consequences, only four out of ten men-witness did speak out [3] . The scandal surrounding sexual misconduct causes the establishment in 2015 of HONOUR; an operation that was considered as a failure until recently [4]. The last report from summer 2019 did show a drop of 25% on the number of filed complaints. Are we finally reaching a turning point in mentalities ? «There was a time when women were very bitter about their time in the army because of lack of acknowledgment», recognizes Dre Bouchard. Tolerance about this became very thin. The setting up of disciplinary measures has been a key factor on behaviour. Hopefully, this will help keep the women longer.  

There is no doubt she counts among the women doctor pioneers who did pave the way for next generations and who left their mark. Tempt to follow their path? «Nothing happens without effort, you have to keep an eye open on opportunity, be prepared, acquire knowledge you need and remember to stay happy wherever you are. Women doctors can be big leaders everywhere, every time. «I love telling myself I did change the world.» 

  1. Femmes dans l’Armée canadienne. Site internet du gouvernement du Canada, mise à jour le 10/2019. https://www.canada.ca/fr/ministere-defense-nationale/services/femmes-dans-les-forces.html 
  2.  «Pas assez de femmes dans l’Armée canadienne : faiblesse critique, disait l’ONU». Stéphane Parent, Radio-Canada international, 19 février 2020.
  3.  «Inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée: pas de baisse malgré les efforts déployés», Émilie Bergron, Journal de montréal, 22 mai 2019. 
  4.  «Des résultats mitigés dans la lutte de l’armée contre les inconduites sexuelles», La Presse Canadienne, Radio-Canada, 26 février 2019.