A Leader in Care, Compassion and Continuous Improvement
Council Award Recipient: Dr. Georgina Wilcock
Ask Dr. Georgina Wilcock, latest recipient of the CPSO Council Award, what she loves about her chosen specialty, obstetrics and gynecology, and her voice just lights up. “It has everything,” she says. “It’s primary care; it’s surgery; it’s preventative medicine; it’s providing care to women. It really is the total package.”
Dr. Wilcock became an OB-GYN in a slightly roundabout way. She was working towards a career in psychiatry at the time, but realized she needed a specialty that was much more “hands on” than what psychiatry offered.
To describe Dr. Wilcock as a “hands on” physician would be an understatement. She is a kind, compassionate, big-hearted doctor who sets a very high standard for care and safety when treating the patients in her community of Scarborough. She is also a firm believer in engaging patients in their own care and encouraging them to speak up if something doesn’t seem right. “You don’t find anyone more motivated than a pregnant woman,” she says. “She wants to make sure her baby is safe. So, I think it’s important to involve her in that whole process.”
Watch a video of her remarks 🎥 when she accepted the award at the September meeting of Council at the end of the article.
Dr. Wilcock is very proactive when it comes to implementing broader system changes to the hospital where she works, the Scarborough Health Network (previously the Scarborough Hospital), where she was chief of the OB-GYN department from 1998 to 2014. In every nomination letter she received for this award, colleagues were effusive about her commitment to safety improvement, better inter-professional collaboration, and overall quality enhancement for patients. As her colleague, Dr. Peter J. Azzopardi, wrote: “As chief, one of her most important roles was to address the quality of care of our maternity teams … We saw the benefits of her hard work in our quality indicators, but more importantly, our families had a better experience and felt more prepared to look after their newborn after discharge.”
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Dr. Wilcock developed a passion for helping others and an interest in medicine at an early age — albeit in an unorthodox way. Her parents ran a hotel when she was growing up, but it offered much more than just a place for visitors to stay. Due to the lack of health care resources in the local community, the hotel also contained a clinic and became the place where people could receive medical care. Dr. Wilcock remembers her mom treating burns, patching up scrapes and cuts, and providing other first aid to whoever needed it, and it inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. “I saw a lot of suffering and so I wanted to find a way to help people,” she says.
Dr. Wilcock attended medical school in Zimbabwe, where she did two years of internship that exposed her to various disciplines and specialties. She followed her husband, a fellow physician, to Canada in the late 1980s. At the time, there wasn’t really a track into the profession for what were then called “foreign-trained” physicians, to the point where Dr. Wilcock believed that she wouldn’t be able to get a job at all. But she eventually found her way to a specialty in OB-GYN, due in part to the encouragement and mentorship of well-known physician, Dr. Denny DePetrillo. She says he was warm, welcoming, and refreshingly candid about the profession and what she needed to do to succeed. It’s an approach she now takes herself when mentoring others, especially fellow international medical graduates.
Dr. Wilcock began working at the Scarborough Hospital in 1994. She has also been teaching in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto since 2000 and has been an assistant professor there since 2017. She has also been the medical director of Scarborough’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Clinic since 2018. Recently, she completed a Masters of Health and Safety at Queen’s University.
Along the way, Dr. Wilcock collected a number of awards for her research and teaching, including the Anglo-American Prize for Highest Achieving Medical Graduate (1986), the 1997 Residents Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching Department of Family Practice, Scarborough General Hospital, and the 2011 Scarborough Hospital Family Practice Residency Program Lifetime Teaching Award. She can now add a CPSO Council Award to her list of honours.
For more than 30 years, Dr. Wilcock has brought an extraordinary blend of care, compassion, lifelong learning and continuous improvement to the medical profession, and it is no exaggeration to say that she is truly beloved among her patients, fellow physicians and support staff. One of the guiding principles of her career is a belief that everyone on a team — including the patient — should be empowered to speak up if they see a problem or a way of doing things better. She is very much a believer in making the patient a partner and collaborator in the safe delivery of care.
This non-hierarchical approach is common in the airline industry, one that tears down barriers and gives everyone a voice to identify problems in the interest of increasing safety. “In the airline industry, they engineer protocols under the assumption that pilots make one error every hour,” Dr. Wilcock says. “As someone working in health care, that resonates with me. But I know we’re still working on how best to handle mistakes. Feedback is so important, but so difficult. People often have a lot of trouble with feedback, but we need to get better at both giving and receiving it. I try to open myself to feedback to make myself better. I can see the fallout when something doesn’t go right and someone gets harmed, and that’s my motivation in medicine, to make things better. And it has gotten so much better over the years.”
This has certainly been the case at the Scarborough Health Network’s department of obstetrics and gynecology under Dr. Wilcock’s leadership. As Dr. Azzopardi wrote in his nomination letter: “Georgina eagerly embraced the MORE-OB philosophy of leveling the playing field so that any team member could point out concerns with either mother or fetus … She was very keen to lower our cesarean section rates and to eliminate any elective sections done before term. We made significant improvements and became one of the best performers among our peer hospitals.”
For all of Dr. Wilcock’s technical and leadership expertise, it really is her deep emotional intelligence and compassion for her patients that is so key to her success. She has never lost touch with some of the struggles of growing up in Zimbabwe and often uses those lessons to empower the people she is treating. “I often tell my patients, if I’m doing something wrong, make a fuss,” she says.
Dr. Wilcock also hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a newcomer to Canada. As another of her nominators, Dr. Carol Peng, put it: “In 2007, [Dr. Wilcock] used her position as Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology to recruit staff who demonstrated cultural sensitivity towards the diverse community that we serve. In the ‘90s, English and French were the only languages spoken by our doctors in the department. Now the obstetrics/gynecology division of SHN can offer women care in both official languages, as well as Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Mandarin, Malayalam and Tamil.”
Dr. Wilcock is adding a second CPSO Council Award to her household: her husband, Ian Kitai, a pediatrician, was the recipient of one in 2003. Together, they have two children, both born while Dr. Wilcock was in residency. Both are grown now: their daughter is a corporate lawyer in England and their son works in communications for a financial company. When she has free time, Dr. Wilcock enjoys gardening, reading, volunteering for the Green Party and, especially, cycling. She is a member of Cycle Toronto and often goes on bike trips that involve 70 to 100 kms of cycling a day.