Women’s College Hospital marks a century of breakthroughs in women’s health

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Since Women’s College Hospital began a century ago, it has had a rich history of strong women leaders with a single mission in mind: to be at the forefront of groundbreaking innovations in the health of women.

In 1883, Dr. Emily Stowe and her supporters tabled a resolution stating “that medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided.”

A few months later, Toronto mayor A. R. Boxwell formally established Woman’s Medical College – the precursor to Women’s College Hospital – and women were offered opportunities in medical studies and in hospital practice, which were generally unavailable elsewhere in the country.

By 1911, Women’s College Hospital opened its door with a medical staff composed entirely of women.

This legacy has earned the hospital a distinctive place in Canadian medical history and has come to symbolize women’s determination to claim their place in the medical profession.

“Women’s College paved the way for such female leaders as Dr. Ricky Kanee Schacter, the first female Canadian head of an academic dermatology division and Dr. Minerva Reid, the first female North American chief of surgery,” says Marilyn Emery, president and CEO, Women’s College Hospital. “Today we’re still placing an unprecedented number of women in leadership positions knowing that their shared experiences can help to better inform and shape the health of women.”

Since its humble beginnings with just seven patient beds, Women’s College Hospital has pushed the boundaries of innovation with breakthroughs and “firsts” that have helped women across the city, throughout the country and around the world.

Women’s College Hospital opened Ontario’s first women’s cancer screening clinic. It collaborated in the invention of the Pap Smear test and was the first hospital in Ontario to use mammography to detect breast cancer. Women’s College was the first Canadian hospital to have a perinatal intensive care unit. It pioneered the country’s first Multidisciplinary Osteoporosis Program, and the first cardiac prevention and rehabilitation program designed exclusively for women. In 1995 it was designated as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Women’s Health.

“Today we are advancing the health of women and improving health-care options for all,” adds Emery. “We are developing new programs, being recognized with countless awards, and publishing pioneering new research. We are the hospital of the future. A hospital designed to keep people out of hospital.”

This year, to mark the hospital’s milestone 100th anniversary, it hosted a yearlong celebration with events and programs looking to the hospital’s bright future while acknowledging a distinguished past.

In January, 100 Years of Women’s College Hospital: A Photography Exhibit celebrated courageous women leaders and key moments in women’s health over the past century.

In April, 175 Grade seven and eight students attended Hooking Up with Health: a Conference for Girls, that featured workshops on body image, bullying, sexuality and healthy relationships.

May saw the Women’s College Research Institute host The Spirit of Discovery in Women’s Health Research which detailed some of the hospital’s newest innovations and studies.

The following month, a Canadian photography exhibit – Being She: The Culture of Women’s Health and Health Care Through the Lens of Wholeness – explored issues of empowerment, diversity, identity and embodiment.

On Nov 10. 2011, Women’s College Hospital held its official birthday party, where a series of special awards – called the Century Tributes – were presented to staff who go above and beyond, exemplifying the hospital’s values of equity, safety, innovation, relationships, leadership and collaboration.

“The past year,” says Emery, “has been a time for us to look back with pride on our extraordinary history and to look forward to our exciting future. A future where Women’s College Hospital continues to focus on innovations that will lead to widely valued and sustainable health-care solutions for all.”

To prepare for this future, the hospital is building a state-of-the art new facility. Designed like no other, it will focus on specialized clinics and surgical suites that combine prevention, research, treatment and education. Construction is well underway and in 2013 the new Women’s College Hospital – the Hospital of the Future – will make its much anticipated debut.