Interview with Senator Gigi Osler

We are very pleased to have the opportunity to feature a conversation with Senator Gigi Osler and Director of the Branch for Global Surgical Care, Dr. Brian Westerberg.

During the rare and exciting opportunity to spend time with the Senator, they discuss how she became involved in medicine, and subsequently global surgical care, as well as her evolving role as a physician leader and advocate which lead to her appointment to the Senate of Canada in 2022.

For the last several years Dr. Osler has been volunteering in Mbarara, Uganda. Working with members of the Canadian Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the group collaborates with the ENT Department of the Mbarara University of Science and Technology to improve the quality of local health care through education, training and mentorship to surgeons, residents and medical students.

Below are some key highlights of this inspiring and insightful interview.

Dr. Osler took some of our first graduate courses and then later graduated from our Graduate Certificate in Global Surgical Care in 2019. She talks about the importance of training in the field of global care and how it can prepare you for work in low resource settings.

“That lead me to understand how important it is to go into global health work, global surgery, and in particular if you are doing in country care, with more than good intentions. A lot of people who embark on this work go in with good intentions, wanting to do more, wanting to give back, wanting to help others. But good intentions are not enough. That’s one really important learning I got from one of the early global health courses..”

“One learning, apart from the good intentions are not enough, is the motto of nothing about us without us. That’s a motto that disabled people’s organizations frequently use and that speaks to the need to include the people who are being affected and impacted by the work that you are doing, in all stages whatever work it is that you are doing. Nothing about us, without us is yet another learning from the course that, I sometimes see is overlooked when people think about doing global health work. Nothing about us without us shifts a lot of the power decision making from we’ll say the Global North, to the Global South and it is learning about the power differentials in the work that is being done and how to meaningfully shift that power so that any work that is being done in country or out of country empowers, builds capacity, and truly has more meaningful, lasting impact in the country that you’re working with.”

She and Dr. Westerberg discuss their work together on global surgical care programs with partners in Uganda and the importance of building trust and forming relationships.

“..I think a key component of truly doing impactful global surgical work is developing trust with the partners you’re working with so that the partnership can truly grow beyond even what the initial terms of reference or goals of the mission were.”

Senator Olser discusses the role of the physician as advocate for access to and improving health care.

“As we see this increased emphasis on the increased stress, distress on the healthcare system, we as physicians need to be part of those discussions, in rebuilding, reforming the healthcare system. So I think being an advocate is core to what we do if we truly want to make health and healthcare better in this country.

“There’s opportunities at every level, every single day of our lives to be an advocate.”

Flordeliz (Gigi) Osler is an internationally renowned surgeon, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, and a dedicated advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Dr. Osler currently operates out of two clinics, including one in the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Section of the St. Boniface Hospital where she served as Section Head from 2010 to 2019. In 2018, Dr. Osler became the first woman surgeon and the first racialized woman elected President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), where she led the development of the CMA’s first ever policy on equity and diversity. Dr. Osler has also been the President of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada since 2021, the Chair of the Canadian Medical Forum since 2020, and Co-Chair of the Virtual Care Task Force since 2019.

Born in Winnipeg to immigrant parents from the Philippines and India, Dr. Osler serves as a role model, research supervisor, and mentor for Filipino and other racialized medical students in Manitoba and across Canada, including within the Filipino Association of Medical Students in Manitoba. She also volunteers annually to train other surgeons in Africa and has been a key voice in raising awareness of the health impacts of climate change in Canada.

Dr. Osler holds a medical degree from the University of Manitoba, where she also completed her residency training, and a Graduate Certificate in Global Surgical Care from the University of British Columbia. She also completed a Rhinology fellowship at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Dr. Osler is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including the University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Award and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada May Cohen Equity, Diversity and Gender Award. She has been named as a Women’s Executive Network (WXN) 2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner and to the Medical Post’s 2021 Power List. Dr. Osler was also inducted into the Government of Canada’s Women of Impact in Canada online gallery in 2022.

To hear the full interview, please click on the video below.