BTSL Interview with
Dr. Christine Law:

"Continue to help others along their paths, just like there have been people who helped you."
Dr. Christine Law, pediatric ophthalmologist at Queen’s University, department EDI lead, and busy mom of three young children, tells us about her path to ophthalmology and her work and experiences with EDII-A.

How did you become interested in ophthalmology?
I went to the University of Waterloo where I had a lot of good friends interested in Optometry. When I joined them for an information session about Optometry there was a slide showing the training difference between Optometry and Ophthalmology and I remember thinking “who on Earth would want to spend all that time to go into Ophthalmology when they could just do Optometry?” I knew early on in medical school I had an interest in surgery as I really liked working with my hands and decided to shadow all the surgical specialties during my early years. Originally, I was interested in OBGYN and general surgery where I did a couple of electives. At first, I didn’t want ophthalmology because I had heard how competitive the specialty was to get in, and I felt I had just went through that to get into medical school. But in the end, the cradle to grave patient population and mix of clinical, procedural, and surgical practice drew me to the specialty. I applied to ophthalmology as well as medical genetics, which I also had an interest in and feel that it overlaps with what I do now in terms of pediatric ophthalmology.

What was your perception on gender equity in ophthalmology?
When I entered Ophthalmology, there was already a good number of females there. In fact, I found ophthalmology a lot less intimidating than other surgical specialties because of this. At U of T (my medical school) there were events focused on women in surgery; where you’d meet female faculty in an informal setting and it sounded like many women in surgical specialties had challenges that women face in other specialties didn’t face. In retrospect, I don't know if that turned me off other surgical specialties a bit.

Tell us about your work/research in global health/EDII-A?
For one of my projects we really wanted to take a look at various PGME websites to see just how easily it is for trainees to understand the culture of schools that they're looking at. I know that websites aren't necessarily a good marker of the culture, but when this research was done during COVID, we really could only learn about stuff online. We looked at how much information people could find on these sites and how inclusive the various programs are. Other research that I do locally here with Kingston, Lennox and Addington public health. We try to see the gaps that currently exist in terms of either screening or accessibility for our population locally and how we can hopefully address them, either through education awareness or potentially even lobbying the government to change funding structures supporting families and children. Even just making sure that they're getting their eye exam as early as possible. Our goal is to ensure that hopefully no kid is missed from a vision health perspective.

What’s an experience that’s helped shape your passion for EDII-A and Global Health?
I don't know if I could say that I could pinpoint one specific experience or episode. However, I see the impact and the struggles that children can often face when there's lack of resources or understanding for both the patients and their givers. Even though I'm born and raised in Canada, having grandparents that lived in Canada and had to get by with broken English, they had barriers in terms of understanding what their healthcare professionals were actually telling them, or their understanding of what they needed to do with their treatment. So when patients don't speak English I really make sure to take the extra time, sometimes 3-4x longer appointment, to call the language line here in the hospital to make sure that they fully understand what we're discussing and ask any additional questions

What do you think it means to the community you represent, and or support, to have someone like you in this line of work?
By the time I was a resident, I feel like there was already many great women and individuals of East Asian descent that came before me. For the longest time in our department, Dr. Stephanie Baxter was the only female faculty in our department. Overtime, more females have joined the department and I often reach out to them for both career and personal advice in terms of how they juggle things like being on maternity leave (i.e. How many months to take off or how to organize their schedule once the child is present). So I think as a female, I've tried to provide that same sort of guidance to my slightly younger colleagues that are going through the same process now. Luckily, we are now at the point where we have multiple females that can provide more varied perspectives because although we are a minority, we are not all the same.  

As our department EDI lead, we are trying to do more EDI-focused events. For example, there was a get together for women, to basically have dinner, chat and get to know each other better. That allows you to talk about a range of things and get perspectives on what would you have done in different situations Stepping out of the work environment provides a great opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level.

What is the importance of mentorship?
There's a difference between the informal mentorship that can occur when you develop a connection organically with a person versus the formal mentorship, when you are assigned to a mentor. Both definitely have their value. When I was a first year medical student, through OMA I was connected formally to a female general surgeon.The communications with her was great early in my medical training to learn to realize such accomplished individuals are accessible and open to sharing. However, I think informal mentorships have played the largest role in my path. I think my strongest mentor was actually my aunt. She's a retired hepatologist and has provided guidance since I was a young child. COSIG is doing a great job in terms of being able to try to connect individuals together to try to create that more personal experience.

When asked about lessons learned from her aunt:
She helped me learn to build thick skin and let things brush off of me in terms of realizing that there's a lot of things that happen in life and it may be to you, or it may be surrounding you – not to take things too personally, and to just take a breath. Brush it off. There will be times when you were working as a physician, (or in your) personal life that yes it is important and you do need to take it seriously, but the vast majority of (the time) you don't have to take life too seriously. Like if somebody interacts with you in a way that feels negative, don't automically take it personally. Take time to build repoire with them – it  may have been that they were just having a bad day. Obviously if others are making comments that you feel are microaggressions, find your voice, but take it as an opportunity to educate.

My aunt was in a fairly high-up position in medical academia when and practice as a female physician in a time where there wasn't a ton. And so it was tough on her. She had to work extra hard to get to where she was. And be thick-skinned and I think some of that rubbed off on me. I think we are progressing with time, where there are still barriers where we are working towards trying to make things equal, or as equal as possible.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey to get to where you are today?
The most important things that I've learned through all my various different locations for training is that it is okay if your path takes a turn. Life is supposed to be topsy turvy. And realizing even if it wasn't exactly in your grand plan from to get from point A to point B, it is still ok and you will find your path . I mean, eventually you might not get back onto the path that you originally wanted to be, but you are on the path that is right for you right now. As I get older, I'm much more forgiving to myself and others for the curve balls life throws at you.

Any advice to young trainees?
As you progress through training (medical school, residency, fellowship) and beyond, it becomes very busy and the ‘physician world’ that you belong to is one of increasing power and privilege. It is important to take pauses to recognize and be grateful for the opportunities and successes you have achieved, but also continue to help others along their paths (doesn’t necessarily have to be medicine), just like there have been people that have helped you.

Any last words you would like to share to the readers?
I'm very impressed with COSIG, being born in the pandemic, and all that the group continues to create and develop. This is tied to EDII-A as you are sharing the knowledge, and helping everyone, rather than a select few, it’s fantastic.

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