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Nadine Caron, BSc'93

Dr. Nadine Caron, seen here at Iona Beach, touches down briefly in the Lower Mainland on a visit between her home in Prince George and an Action Canada session in Ottawa.

She was a star basketball player at SFU; now she’s a star in a whole other firmament. She is a surgeon, a role model for Aboriginal youth, one of Maclean’s “100 Canadians to watch,” a champion of the Canadian health-care system, and an Action Canada fellow.

What do you do in Action Canada?

Action Canada is a leadership development program that consists of three week-long conferences in Vancouver (at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue), Ottawa, and Whitehorse. During the year the 19 fellows attend all three conferences and work on a year-long group project. With the people I am meeting, the places I am seeing, and the discussions we are having regarding leadership, government and public responsibility, and Canadian identity, I am learning in a classroom that is far from medical textbooks and operating theatres. Action Canada is complementing my education to date and setting me up to meet my future professional and personal goals. <www.actioncanada.ca>

You’ve recently lived in San Francisco. Was it difficult working within the American medical system?

I’ve just completed a year-long fellowship in endocrine surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, in which I had the opportunity to work with some of America’s finest surgeons.
There were difficult moments working within a system where one can’t always separate the person in need of health care from the questions of insurance and finance. Whether it was working within a system that seemed tethered by the paperwork that a multi-payer system creates, or discussing with a patient treatment options that are tethered by the patient’s income, I tried to recognize not only the faults of this system but its strengths as well. The American health-care system as a whole has an amazing capacity for excellent patient health care and for medical research and education. But as a Canadian I am proud of what our health-care system provides and stands for, and increasingly concerned about what we have to lose.

You’re now in Prince George. What are you doing there?

I am enjoying being back in beautiful B.C. Prince George is a wonderful, active community with many opportunities for outdoor activities, including great cross-country skiing at this time of year. I missed this last year when I was living in California. I had wonderful running and cycling, including some great races in trail running, swimming, and triathlons – but I missed the snow.
I am now an assistant professor with the UBC faculty of medicine (department of surgery) and am part of the new northern medical program at UBC/UNBC. Here I hope to merge my love of general and endocrine surgery (including the teaching and mentoring opportunities a medical school brings) with the goals of academia, which for me include opportunities to explore issues, causes, and impacts within Aboriginal health and Canada’s health- care system.

What inspired you to be a doctor?

My years as an athlete at SFU set benchmarks for what I wanted any endeavour in my life to hold: that sense that if no one was watching – if there was no scoreboard, no title, no trophy – I would do it all the same. On the courts at SFU I knew what it felt like to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing while I was doing it. Those early experiences at SFU with my teammates and coaches gave me a framework I wanted my life to follow. I became very stubborn – I wouldn’t accept anything less.
I had an opportunity to shadow a surgeon while still a student at SFU. After national basketball championships in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1992, our team’s sponsor offered to host any of the players who were considering a career in medicine back in Jackson for the following summer. One week after final exams I went back to Tennessee, where my career path unfolded before my eyes. I was immediately aware of the personal and professional challenges a career in surgery would offer and I never looked back. After one night in the operating room I was certain this is what I wanted to do, and I spent the next 12 years training to be able to do it.

Do you see yourself as a role model for other First Nations’ students?

I think we are all role models – it’s our responsibility to ensure that we are positive ones. As an Aboriginal person in medicine and as a female in surgery, I hope that others behind me see what is possible – but set their goals far beyond what I have achieved. My personal and careers paths are merely a suggestion of what is possible.

What are your best memories of SFU?

Time with teammates on and off the court. I am so proud to be associated with the women from the SFU basketball and soccer teams who have gone on to change the world around them – and in the process have helped change the role and perception of women in our society.
The roar of the crowd at our basketball games, far exceeding the support any women’s team I knew to date. We had such unfailing support from the Simon Fraser community that it made playing at home a privilege.
Runs on Burnaby Mountain, especially in September, on a sunny afternoon with a clear blue sky.

Were there any faculty members or coaches who particularly influenced you? What did you learn from them?

I left SFU a different person, and a huge part of that was because of Allison McNeill, my basketball coach from 1988 to 1992. Allison had an uncanny understanding of basketball and of her role as a coach. She taught us the fine details of this great game and helped us to realize the responsibility one has to oneself and one’s teammates on and off the court. Allison wanted us to be able to look back in life and be able to say that we had done our very best. I know I will cherish every word Allison and I will share in the years to come.
Early on at SFU I met [then Chancellor] Barbara Rae, who was one of the women’s basketball team’s greatest fans. In fact, the Barbara Rae Cup (an annual women’s basketball game between SFU and UBC) was started in my first year, 1988. Barbara was an inspiration for many of us as she endlessly demonstrated her intelligence, strength, and determination while never giving up her integrity, class, or elegance. To this day, she remains an inspiration for me and a dear, dear friend.
SFU’s kinesiology department prepared me well for the study of medicine. When I was a student there I had excellent professors who were certainly a large part of why I chose to major in kinesiology. Parveen Bawa, Glen Tibbits, and Craig Asmundson are three of those excellent teachers who were a great support.

What’s next in your life?

Settling into our new life with my husband, Patrick Turner (also a doctor in Prince George).
I will be busy with Action Canada for the next few months while at the same time getting my academic medicine and surgery career off the ground. With the fall semester approaching, I will be preparing to be an instructor in SFU’s undergraduate semester in dialogue on health issues and ethics. Mark Winston has given me an amazing opportunity to teach with him, be part of this program, and build my connections with SFU again.

What are your long-term plans?

To be able to look back on the past few hours, the last few days, the previous week, a couple of months ago, last year, a couple of decades ago, my life to date – and know I did my best.

What are your hobbies?

Staying active – exercise is my outlet. While I still enjoy the challenge of competition, exercise also gives me time to clear my mind and simply enjoy being outdoors. I run, cycle, swim, participate in triathlons, cross-country ski, and hike. There are also days when sitting in front of the fireplace with a good book and cup of coffee just can’t be beat.

What kind of music do you listen to?

That depends on the mood I am in. It might be music that makes me think, music that lets me feel relaxed, or music that is a good companion on a long run.

What are you reading now?

I am rereading a book entitled The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. It’s a wonderful book on how values, expectations, and beliefs differ across cultures – and it gives an example of what can happen if this is not recognized. It takes a hard look at our western style of medicine. I was given the book while at the Harvard school of medicine, but I read it first in San Francisco where it is part of the curriculum for first-year medical students. I rarely reread books, but this one is worth it!

Photograph by Linda Mackie <www.lindamackie.ca>