Walking the halls and inpatient units of Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg alongside Dr. Manon Pelletier, the site’s medical lead, it’s impossible not to feel both her sense of purpose and the level of camaraderie and connection she has with staff from all kinds of backgrounds.
“Hi, how are you,” she says to colleagues, greeting them warmly and by their first name(s) as we pass through the hospital’s Clinical Assessment Unit (CAU), Emergency Department, and Neurology unit before stopping to chat with “Greg from the mailroom” who is eating a snack in the common area outside Guildy’s.
Her introduction of Greg is genuine as she expresses her appreciation for his work and knowledge of HSC. Each member of the HSC team she has introduced this morning has been warm, whether an “incredible” manager, a Clinical Resource Nurse she refers to as “an invaluable member of the team”, or her colleagues in the CAU who she lovingly refers to as “the little engine that could.”
“This is my baby,” she comments as we walk through the doors of the CAU that she was instrumental in creating more than seven years ago. “We decant from the emergency department and bring up short-stay patients who can’t go home yet. We have great patient flow, a very short average length of stay and provide care for upwards of 25 patients per week.”
The level of pride she feels is evident as she credits the team that keeps the unit operating, shifting and adjusting to meet the many challenges brought about by COVID and the current access block that is affecting the hospital.
“We have amazing docs and an incredible team of staff. From one day to the next, we are figuring out the best way to help the teams working downstairs,” she says, referring to the HSC Emergency Department. “When I’m on service, I come to the CAU to do rounds and then I head down to the ED to see if any patients have been flagged for me, speak to the ED docs associated with those patients and support any admissions.”
Passing through the ED, she stops frequently, speaking to physicians and letting them know of a change in schedule that means another doctor is covering the CAU this week. The exchanges are warm, often punctuated by moments of shared laughter in the midst of the other sights and sounds of a busy hospital: monitors beeping, carts rolling across the linoleum floor, and a patient coughing.
“I have only ever wanted to be a doctor,” says Dr. Pelletier. “My mom remembers me at age four saying I wanted to be a doctor and I have never wavered. I’m not really sure why as there were no doctors in the family. Science was a big thing though, with my dad a bio-chemist and my mom a nurse, so I think my own passion stemmed from that.”
Dr. Pelletier completed her Bachelor of Science studying in French at Université de Saint-Boniface before applying to medical school in Quebec. A graduate of Université de Sherbrooke, she returned to Manitoba, completing the bilingual stream family medicine program and her residency at HSC Winnipeg.
“During my last rotation at HSC I went to the staff BBQ and stood in line for my hot dog. I had secured a job doing fly-in medicine to Manitoba’s north and was trying to figure out what to do with my off weeks in the city,” she recalls. “I approached the front of the line and received my hot dog from Dr. Perry Gray. He remembered me from my ICU rotation and said ‘do you think you would want a job here?’”
“A couple of weeks later I was working in the ICU as a house medical officer (HMO),” says Dr. Pelletier. “I was the first family-medicine trained grad to work as an HMO and at first it was terrifying, but it was such a learning experience over the eight years I spent there. Now, there is a whole program of HMOs covering ICU calls!”
Dr. Pelletier has spent her career blazing new trails, first in her HMO role supporting care in HSC’s busy Intensive Care Units, then establishing the CAU at HSC in a matter of weeks, followed by CAUs at other Winnipeg facilities. Now she is HSC’s youngest, first female, and first family-medicine trained site medical lead, accomplishments that she is proud of, but not defined by.
“I’ve developed really close relationships here over the years and so a switch to leadership has been hard and was something I struggled with initially. It’s something I’m sure I’ll continue to have to manage,” she says. “I try to be very open and I’m definitely not a robot in my leadership style. I’m passionate and I really want to help. I think people appreciate that most of the time, certainly they’ll make jokes about things they can’t say to me but they know I’m listening and advocating for them.”
Dr. Pelletier maintains her clinical practice alongside her site leadership and mom duties, working an average of one week per month on call, supporting patient care, speaking up on issues she is passionate about and maintaining close connections with members of HSC’s broader team.
“Some weeks are really tough and some are great but across them all, the clinical work really saves me and keeps me grounded in why I became a doctor in the first place. I’m a leader but I’m also a doctor, and caring for patients and staff is my path. I’m taking my experience and passion to the leadership table where it is driving my interactions and my decision-making. I am hopeful that it is making a difference.”
Dr. Pelletier’s passion shows when she begins talking about the challenges that hospital leadership and care teams are working to address.
“Staff and doctors come in every day and put everything they have into this really busy, chaotic, incredible place and they really are at the mercy of so many external factors,” she says. “We need to ensure they know that we all have their back, that they are not alone.”
“What the teams at HSC do each day is so important. The current challenges affect me so deeply and are definitely the hardest part of my job. The thing that keeps me up at night is the idea that staff might not feel supported or appreciated. It’s a heavy weight that can be tough to navigate at times but I really do feel like things are shifting in the right direction.”
Dr. Pelletier is driven to continue that progress, along with the team leading HSC into the coming days, weeks, and months. “The leadership team genuinely cares about our staff and we are doing everything we can to make things better. Everyone brings so much heart to their work each day and I’m really proud to be part of the team.”