A male world: The story behind the ouster of Hamilton Health Sciences’ first female head of cardiac surgery

Holly Ward penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on this subject

A male world: The story behind the ouster of Hamilton Health Sciences’ first female head of cardiac surgery

The news that Holly Ward, a renowned cardiac surgeon who is the first female head of cardiac surgery at Hamilton Health Sciences, was removed from her position in 2012 unleashed a media storm.

Ward, 61, led the three-hospital organization for five years, and developed its critically lauded program for minimally invasive heart surgeries that was the first of its kind in Canada. But her ouster sent shockwaves through the industry – in no small part because of the unusual measures used by the Hamilton regional health authority to get rid of her.

Leaders of Hamilton Health Sciences did not respond to requests for comment. But Ward and one of her former colleagues talked to the Wall Street Journal about what has become a part of the discussion in the cardiac field.

Under their leadership, cardiac surgeries have become more complicated. This year saw the expansion of the heart-lung bypass surgery procedure into a procedure called EBE that allows more precise incisions to access and restore blood flow to the heart.

The increasing complexity of the operation has made the recruitment of new surgeons difficult, many of whom end up moving on to other opportunities, said Ward’s colleague John Stephen, who left Hamilton Health Sciences after being promoted to head of a privately run high-risk cardiac surgery program in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

The cardiac surgery program at Hamilton Health Sciences and in the province as a whole is often called “a male world”, she said, owing to the belief that women are not cut out for the surgical specialty.

Ward said she hopes to start a conversation about the issue, urging leaders to bring women’s talents into the area of electrophysiology and operations.

“The need for these girls is incredible,” she said. “The kind of patient care you could get out of a girl – we don’t talk about that enough.”

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