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Cancer care during a global pandemic: recognizing Dr. Elaine Wai and Dr. Helen Anderson on International Women's Day

Cancer care does not stop in the face of a global pandemic. Extraordinary circumstances have caused a pivot in operations. Within our provincial team, two female leaders, Drs. Wai and Anderson have been at the forefront of some of these adaptations. 
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​Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer organizations around the world have continued to innovate and provide the best patient care possible. BC Cancer remains responsive to the ongoing pandemic – keeping patient care and safety top of mind by embracing innovation and adapting care to better serve patients. 

As part of International Women’s Day (March 8), BC Cancer is recognizing two of our inspiring female leaders Dr. Elaine Wai and Dr. Helen Anderson, who have been at the forefront of BC Cancer’s most prominent adaptations. These adaptations include the implementation of remote ordering of systemic therapy and digital health strategies including remote patient monitoring of patients undergoing cancer treatment– a first of its kind program in B.C. 

Adapting to change: Dr. Elaine Wai and Dr. Helen Anderson

Dr. Elaine Wai began as the senior director, medical affairs and quality in November 2020 in the midst of the second wave in B.C. As part of her portfolio, she is involved in the regular COVID-19 surge operations planning meetings and, prior to taking her provincial role as senior executive director, medical affairs and quality, she was involved with developing the COVID-19 provincial guidelines for the radiation therapy group – part of her work as the department head for radiation oncology at the Victoria centre.

“When it comes to projects, including those for COVID-19, I think it is very important to be honest, consistent and transparent in how I communicate and interact with others,” says Dr. Wai on her leadership style. “One of my objectives as a leader is to think about the bigger picture while seeing how the inner component parts contribute, how they need to be connected, and how they fit together to best achieve common goals.”  
Dr. Helen Anderson is the provincial medical director for the systemic therapy program and medical oncologist at BC Cancer. She helped lead the work of the provincial cancer clinical management guidelines, a guidance document to provide recommendations for prioritization, assessment and treatment of cancer patients in anticipation of COVID-19 disrupting access to health care. Dr. Anderson was a critical component of successfully developing a remote systemic therapy ordering policy to support clinicians providing care remotely. 

Currently, Dr. Anderson is working with a provincial task force working on immunization recommendations that includes advice for patients with cancer. “I aspire to be a servant leader. I am incredibly fortunate to work in an organization that is full of smart, capable and committed people who want the best for our patients,” says Dr. Anderson. 

“A lot of my role is listening, learning and working with my colleagues to understand the root causes of issues and figuring out solutions together.”
Dr. Wai supported implementation of the remote patient monitoring program – a first in the province for patients undergoing cancer treatment. The program provides patients the ability to report on their symptoms without having to go into a cancer centre. The at-home assessments are closely monitored by doctors and nurses who can intervene if there are any concerns; possibly before a patient knows to seek care. 

Leading through a pandemic has not been without its challenges. Both leaders recognize that there has been a deep fatigue that has hit them and their teams at different points throughout the year. “One of the hardest challenges has been not being able to get together in person with our team or for me to have face-to-face conversations and meet with the front-line leaders in the centres,” says Dr. Anderson. 

“We’re all adjusting to a new normal, both professionally and within our home lives,” says Dr. Wai. “I am amazed by how everyone has stretched their capacity, in spite of how stretched they were before the pandemic began.” 
The changes that have been implemented have been nothing less than extraordinary in nature and sweeping across the organization. 

“Our whole community, and particularly my colleagues in health care, have risen to this challenge and remained kind and resilient and they continue to be so,” adds Dr. Anderson. 
Thank you to Drs. Wai and Anderson and to all the women who have persevered during a year of adapting to COVID-19 both at work and at home. It has been no small feat to care for patients, for others, and for yourselves.  
SOURCE: Cancer care during a global pandemic: recognizing Dr. Elaine Wai and Dr. Helen Anderson on International Women's Day ( )
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