Dr. Jolly on her Order of Canada honour

As part of my story on the new Canadian Honours exhibition at 90 Wellington, I spoke to one of the attendees, Dr. Elaine Jolly, the Founder of the Shirley E. Greenberg Women’s Health Centre, and recipient of the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. I couldn’t get much of my interview in the story, but I figured I’d put the whole thing here.

Q: Tell me about your story.

A: Well, I’m an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and presently I’m the medical director of the women’s health centre at the Ottawa Hospital. I was very honoured and privileged to receive the Order of Canada in 1999, and was notified in 1998. It was for the activities that I had undertaken for women’s health, and as an academic – because I’m a professor at the University of Ottawa – I have had extensive experience with education and public education, and education of students and residents, and our own continuing medical education for physicians. With regards to accomplishments, I must say that when I got the Order of Canada, I was very overwhelmed because I didn’t think that I was doing anything terribly special that many other academics had done, but having a focus on women’s health – and at that time, I was obviously nominated and supported for this – they deemed that that was a good thing. What it did do, however, was spur me on to really fulfil things that I would have liked to have done, and I think it probably helped, and that’s the development of the Shirley E. Greenberg Women’s Health Centre. In Ottawa, I formed a women’s health council, because having a women’s health centre fell on deaf ears in the Ottawa hospital system. Not because it’s not a good thing, but because there were many other priorities, and women’s health is not one of them. It’s really not a priority still for the provincial government. If you have cancer, and that’s important, and if you have orthopaedic things like hip replacements and cataract surgery that’s good, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we still have to really work hard to get the issues related to women’s health and obstetrics and looking after women who are pregnant seems to be a little more appreciated, but looking after women and their health, promotion of health, prevention of disease, looking at the number one issue that women have mortality with is cardio-vascular disease, and how does it differ from men’s health, because it is different – women don’t have that sudden, horrible chest pain – they have atypical symptoms. So looking at that, and osteoporosis, and cancers that women have, the number one cancer killer believe it or not is not breast cancer but lung cancer, so smoking cessation is pretty important. Looking at diagnosis and early management of breast cancer is important, and looking at the global picture for women’s health, and as a gynaecologist, I look at problems with women’s reproduction. At the Women’s Health Centre, we have a multidisciplinary group, but mainly gynaecologists looking at those areas that fit in. We have 30 gynaecologists, we see 30,000 women a year, we opened in 2005 – Shirley Greenberg was instrumental in giving us a lot of money, which we also raised to not totally match, but we came close to it. And then the government was sort of pushed into supporting us, and the hospital was pushed into supporting us because the women’s voices were heard, and I have to tell you that the women here in Ottawa and in Eastern Ontario are responsible, along with Shirley for improving women’s health. Being a catalyst for that sort of thing, along with my daily duties, it was a good thing. My story is pretty simple, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.

Q: And you’ve also got the Golden Jubilee medal?

A: This is the Golden Jubilee medal, and I’m proud to have that as well. That was not for any accomplishment – that was sort of a thing that you got for continued good service if you already had the Order of Canada, so it’s kind of like the icing on the cake, and I understand that the Diamond Jubilee medal will sort of be like that. You don’t have to do anything specific, but keep doing what they perceive are your good works. It’s been a real honour, and coming today, it’s wonderful to see all the people that have been honoured, and to have this opportunity to be recognised – I’m sure Julie Payette would continue whether or not she got the Order of Canada, to continue all the good things, but it just makes you pretty humble but very proud to be part of the Canadian landscape. And to think that a physician could do this, and physicians – we all do the same thing, so it’s pretty wonderful.

Q: What’s the message that this exhibition is sending? We’re in this space across from Parliament Hill? What do you think the message it sends to the public and tourists who see it?

A: For everyone, even those people who aren’t familiar with honours, it introduces them to the fact that their country, Canada, recognises those people that make an extra special effort, and if you look at all of these banners, you can see that it’s not just someone – and I met Dr. Katz when I came in, and he invented the foetal monitor and the heart-and-lung machine, and interestingly he had a quadruple by-pass, I had a triple-bypass as well. Without that machine, we couldn’t have that. By that same token, ordinary people who give of themselves and their lives are also up on the walls, so there’s not just information but it should instil pride, and it should instil that in this great country that even though we have political turmoil and economic turmoil, that it’s still a great place to be and that you are recognised. That’s number one. Being right across from the Parliament buildings is a real plus, because this emphasises that we are Canadian, and being invited to this – it allows us, and believe me there are some fabulous… The issues related to that broad spectrum of accomplishments are here. It should instil in people the pride that they might be here, that they might nominate someone as Canadians, and I think if you’re a tourist, you will be very impressed. I’m not familiar with what happens in other countries, but I’m certainly very proud that this has developed here. I got my Order of Canada in 1999, which is a long time ago, but being kept up to date with all of the other recipients and honourees, and for example last year, we had with a former Governor General, a session on women’s health, and many people were invited and we looked at strategies, and looked at the global situation. The focus then for me was very good, and it’s an honour. I must tell you that I don’t wear my little snowflake pin all the time, but when I do, I can be certain that someone will recognise it. Ten years ago, nobody ever knew what that was, except Lloyd Robertson got his, and you wondered when he was reading the news, what’s that thing you’re wearing. More people recognise that, and if we look at the broad spectrum as a super broadcaster, that was good. Truly, it’s a continuum, and they are looking at expanding I’m sure the criteria, but the criteria are pretty strict. As you are nominated, then you have to have people support you, and I don’t think it happens overnight.

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