MUHC's first female surgeon-in-chief says patients are her top priority

An award-winning, native Montrealer is now the surgeon-in-chief and medical director of the Surgical Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. Dr. Liane Feldman stepped into her role on Jan. 1.

Dr. Liane Feldman says she will be focusing on patient experience, wait times and communication

Among her long list of accomplishments, Dr. Liane Feldman the incoming president-elect of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

As fireworks boomed over Montreal's Old Port to mark the start of a new year, Dr. Liane Feldman made history at one of the city's oldest medical institutions.

Effective Jan. 1, she became the first female surgeon-in-chief and medical director of the surgical mission of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

She is tasked with organizing the clinical workload in the operating rooms, ambulatory clinics and emergency departments across a network of medical facilities that includes the Royal Victoria Hospital and Montreal General.

All this while co-managing adult perioperative services and serving as chair of McGill University's department of surgery.

Feldman grew up in Montreal, studied at McGill and has been the recipient of several awards, including the Kathryn Rolph Award for contributing to the advancement of women in the department of surgery. For the last nine years, she has directed the MUHC's division of general surgery.

Through it all, patients have continued to be her top priority.

The following is based on Feldman's interview on CBC Montreal's Let's Go. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. The audio from that interview is available below.

How does it feel to be the first female surgeon-in-chief at the MUHC?

That never was a big thing for me but in the last few years — with what's happened in society and with other opportunities I've had internationally — I've obviously come to recognize that these are important messages to send.

If this helps other people see women or other less commonly represented people in these kinds of roles, and if that helps other people decide to pursue opportunities in leadership, then that's a blessing for sure.

When you look back 20 years, how many of your contemporaries were female surgeons?

At least half of our students, or sometimes more, are women. And those we are training in general surgery are half women as well. In my day, it was a bit less, but we always had women. I always had role models who were women when I was training.

I saw two of my attending surgeons pregnant, and I actually had my family during my training which I think was a real gift. 

Is there a message you want to send to other female surgeons or doctors in Montreal?

I don't know that I have a message, but I can say it was my dream to be a surgeon as a kid and, even outside of this role, I still kind of pinch myself, even 20 years later.

I think that I've had a lot of support and a lot of mentorship and I'm just really excited to be able to have the opportunity to shape surgery at McGill and Quebec.

Do you have a list of changes or improvements that you want to make?

Absolutely. I certainly have my priorities for the first few months and then plans for what I will work on over my mandate.

It's really about putting our patients first and how to make their experiences as good as they can be. That includes working on our wait lists, working on how we prepare patients for surgery, how we educate patients, the way that they can get in touch with us and communicate when they need to.

Another important priority is to maintain our academic mission, not just in an ivory tower type of way, but to make sure, with all the amazing work done in the department of surgery by our surgeons and our scientists, that we bring it to the bedside to improve and bring innovative care to our patients.

Listen to the interview with Dr. Liane Feldman here: 

with files from CBC's Let's Go


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