“This is totally revolutionary. Everyone else does blood testing, which means long wait times. By testing the tumour first, the whole process is so much easier. It eliminates patient anxiety and saves time.”
Dr. Mary Kinloch’s excitement is contagious. Her words convey a certain fascination with this innovative medical procedure that can identify whether family members of some people with cancer have a high risk of also developing cancer. Her voice is filled with emotion and illustrates conviction in what she is saying. This new medical approach is important. Its importance extends beyond science. It represents tangible improvement to the healthcare system. It also represents the community, embracing those who have been touched by cancer. There is also a certain pride behind the way a community of strong women made this possible.
The new procedure Dr. Kinloch is describing is being rolled out in the Saskatchewan Health Authority by Candice Jackel-Cram, a genetic counsellor, and her team. Their pilot program allows all women with uterine cancer to receive tumour-based testing for evidence of a hereditary explanation. Women used to have to wait three or four years for testing and genetic counselling. With this new program, the wait time is now one to two months.
“There are far-reaching benefits to families throughout Saskatchewan,” Dr. Kinloch explains. “This procedure tells us whether a hereditary cancer syndrome has been passed from the woman with uterine cancer to her children. Families with a hereditary cancer syndrome can then participate in a surveillance program to help prevent cancer. This will save lives.”
Dr. Kinloch explains how innovation is at the heart of this treatment. “Nobody in Canada is doing this. A few in the United States are doing this in a research capacity, but this is a clinical process that is being funded right here in Saskatchewan. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Many great new ideas emerge in healthcare. But which ones will be implemented? The Canadian healthcare system’s operational funding is dedicated to applying proven procedures that are considered the standard of care. A new procedure like this one requires outside funding. It needs a source of funding with an interest in changing the standard of care.
One of the special aspects is that the funding comes from a community rather than a specific donor.
THE PITCH FOR FUNDING
Where did Jackel-Cram’s funding come from? Back in September 2018, she and her team were one of three finalists to “pitch” their projects to a unique audience. The room was full of women who had joined the Royal University Hospital Foundation’s Women Leading Philanthropy (WLP) program by donating $1,200, or $600 for those under age 40, toward an innovative program or research project that would transform healthcare for women and their families in the province. They had gathered to hear the three finalists’ proposals; they then voted on which one they felt should receive funding. Jackel-Cram’s team was chosen and received WLP’s inaugural $100,000 grant.
The RUH Foundation’s WLP program draws together women philanthropists and sponsors. Together they support innovative healthcare initiatives led by women physicians, health practitioners, and researchers at RUH. For Dr. Kinloch, this genetics project was a perfect fit. “Women Leading Philanthropy is intended to transform the way care is provided.”
Dr. Kinloch is voluntary chair of the WLP program, along with honorary chair, Rachel Mielke, Founder and CEO of Hillberg & Berk. Their role is to lead a passionate committee of volunteers and to build and engage a community of women to make donations to support this program and to build awareness with women physicians and researchers whose work has the potential to be funded by the program.
This innovative model complements the way the RUH Foundation has engaged donors over the past 35 years to support important priorities and innovation in the healthcare system. The uniqueness of the program drew Mielke in. “It was really compelling that this program could bring women from the business community and also the broader community together for a shared goal. Also, that the funds would be directed through the vision of this group – that’s just really interesting.”
THE EMPOWERED PHILANTHROPIST
These women are deliberate in how they have chosen to support their community. They are motivated to make a difference. They are empathetic to the challenges facing women leaders in healthcare and they wish to make a meaningful difference in supporting those who are overcoming career hurdles. That does not preclude the need for results, however. Those participating in the program are making an informed decision on which female-led initiative to support. On the night when presentations are made, the evaluation process feels somewhat like a pitch to a room full of venture capitalists.
This WLP initiative is a local example of a national trend. Women have gained heightened influence in leadership positions throughout society in areas such as medicine, engineering, basic science, and entrepreneurship. They have proven themselves, taken risks, and tried new approaches to solving old problems. When making philanthropic decisions, they want to make a real difference to society.
There are many great causes to support, and people tend to gravitate to those that have some relevance to their own situation. Mielke reflects on what attracted her to the program. “As a woman with small children and an aging parent, I’ve had to navigate the healthcare system. With this program I feel I am supporting improvements to our health system.”
Credit for the success to date of the RUH Foundation’s WLP program can be spread among many volunteer women who have been involved in developing the pilot program, and the RUH Foundation’s Board of Directors, which embraced something new. But one of the special aspects is that the funding comes from a community rather than a specific donor. To Mielke, this is not at all surprising. “My experience is that time and time again, the business community and other strong leaders are willing to step up and contribute.”
Expectations are high for Women Leading Philanthropy to continue to foster innovation in healthcare while supporting women’s leadership and philanthropy. Other strong applications were considered for the 2018 award. Applications for the 2019 WLP grant are now being evaluated, and other innovations are sure to emerge from women in Saskatchewan’s medical community.
Each month, new women donors register as members through the RUH Foundation’s website to support this great cause. The community continues to financially support its good work.
First published in the June 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.