As an obstetrician/gynecologist, Dr Stephanie Rhone is highly respected by her colleagues and patients as a top-notch clinician, especially with early pregnancy complications, pregnancy loss, gynecologic surgery and reproductive imaging.
Had she decided to simply focus on her clinical career, she would be lauded.
Dr Rhone, however, decided early in her specialty that along with clinical care, she also wanted to impact more than just one patient at a time. She wanted to help create a positive culture and structure for health care delivery, supporting all medical staff in providing exemplary care.
"It was always really important to me to contribute beyond clinical care. I am not a researcher, so my way is through medical administration," said Dr Rhone, Senior Medical Director of BC Women's Hospital. "You are influencing care at a level higher—you are effecting system change, creating opportunities for learning and teaching, impacting more than just one patient —all of which is very important to me."
At BC Women's she oversees all its outpatient programs as well as all the gynecology surgical services. Dr Rhone also still runs a private practice doing general OB/GYN services, maternity and gynecological surgery, as well as works a half-day each week at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic (EPAC). She also does four on-call nights a month for the hospital.
"It is a super busy schedule, but I really it. I get incredible satisfaction from my job in all of its different areas," says Dr Rhone, 49, the enthusiasm literally bubbling in her voice.
Women as leaders
As a woman, has she ever found it challenging to be in medical leadership? Not at BC Women's where the majority of leadership positions are held by women. "Having more women in leadership roles, fosters more women to participate in leadership."
That may not be true in other institutions, she notes, but over the years, physicians — male and female — have generally not been adequately encouraged, trained, compensated and supported to take up leadership roles. This she notes is changing by efforts of the Doctors of BC and she welcomes it. "The system needs to place a higher value on physician administration and leadership work."
As the mother of two pre-teen daughters, she loves spending family time skiing, biking and travelling but admits that like all working mothers "I can get challenged by the work-life balance —but it is really about making the adjustments to make it all possible."
"Dr Rhone is exceptional," says Edwina Houlihan, who as senior director at BC Women's and is the administrative counterpart in a dyad management structure at the hospital. "She is highly respected by all her colleagues and is a real leader. She is very collaborative and is able to communicate really clearly and motivate her colleagues."
Finding her specialty
Growing up with lots of medical relatives in Amherst, Massachusetts, as a high school student Dr Rhone watched a C-section being performed by her OB/GYN aunt. While that experience did not make Dr Rhone immediately want to do an OB/GYN specialty, "I really admired her as a person and as a medical practitioner. She was a role model I aspired to."
Dr Rhone loved medical school, but found she was particularly drawn to those specialties that combined surgical and medical care with a large variety in daily practice. "That is what I really love about OB/GYN —the breadth of things you are involved with."
She did her medical degree at Emory University in Georgia, then her first year of OB/GYN residency at the University of Washington, where she married her business executive husband, a Vancouverite. The couple decided to move to Vancouver, so Dr Rhone switched the rest of her residency to the University of BC and became a Canadian.
"I am thrilled to be a Canadian doctor. While there are challenges in our system — as there are in any health system — we are so privileged to have universal coverage, especially when I look at what my family members have to deal with in the US. I feel very privileged that finances are not something that I have to discuss with my patients. I don't think Canadian doctors always realise what a burden that is (in the US) and how it can potentially impact your relationship with your patients and their patient care."
Passion for caring and compassion
Providing coordinated, compassionate and effective care — especially care that is filling an identified gap —is a passion.
"What I enjoy about building programs is around identifying a gap in care, where patients are not getting the kind of care that they need," said Dr Rhone, who in 2007 first built the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic (EPAC)at BC Women's which is a model for all BC.
"Early pregnancy complications are a very common problem, but the care is often fragmented, poorly accessible, and not very empathetic or patient-centred," said Dr Rhone.
EPAC provides all the care in a single centre, whether support and care for early spotting to maintain the pregnancy, or empathetic, compassionate same-day care for miscarriages and stillbirths.
Dr Rhone is now spearheading a number of programs, including expanding the hospital's sexual health services to better meet the needs of both mature women and adolescents -- developing those areas in terms of not only patients' clinical care, but education and research.
"It is really wonderful to create programs that meet the needs across the board for both the patient and the system," said Dr Rhone.
Doctors of BC members can seek funding support for leadership training.
Apply for Physician Leadership and Quality Improvement Training Scholarship available through the Specialist Services Committee and Shared Care Committee as follows:
Family physicians – apply for the Leadership and Management Development Program available through the GPSC by clicking here.
Doctors of BC is interested in profiling physicians you know who are making a positive difference for their patients and in their communities. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.