Canadian Medical Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Jean Gray shares her proudest achievements
Jean Gray, CM, MD, FRCPC, has a long history of being the only woman in the room. When you look at photos from her work on various committees and boards in the 1970s and 80s, you’ll notice (as she did): “In all of those pictures, I’m the only woman.”
That reality, combined with her experience becoming a mother (her proudest achievement) made her realize early on in her career that more support was needed for women physicians.
“Both of my children very obligingly arrived on a Friday night and I went back to work on Tuesday morning,” she remembers. “I was on call the night that my first child was born. When I finally went over to the maternity hospital they kept having to say, ‘Wake up and push!” And I kept saying, ‘I was up all night — leave me alone,’” she says with a laugh.
Soon after, she began lobbying for some form of maternity leave for the growing number of women entering medicine. She started by ensuring that her female colleagues were each given two months of leave — a vast improvement at the time. Her later work with the Medical Research Council of Canada (now CIHR) also reinforced this need as they looked at women’s’ career development as clinical researchers. Eventually, tides started to shift as medical societies began to recognize maternity leave as a need and to make provisions to enable it.
But Dr. Gray’s penchant for filling needs when she saw them became a hallmark of her career.
A turning point in her career
Dr. Gray is now a professor emeritus of Medical Education, Medicine and Pharmacology at Dalhousie University. Besides her work supporting women in medicine, she is well-known for her knowledge of pharmacotherapeutics, as a drug safety advocate, mentor and prolific volunteer.
Her proudest career achievement was her role in the publication of Therapeutic Choices — which is now in its eighth print edition (Dr. Gray was involved up to edition six) and which is also kept continuously up-to-date in its newer digital version.
“I am not a pharmacist but was named an honorary one courtesy of having worked on this book,” she says.
Her involvement came about while she was a member of the editorial board for the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (CPS), published by the Canadian Pharmacists Association. To address the CPS’s outdated monographs (after 25 years in print) a decision emerged to publish a handbook on therapeutics for community-based practitioners.
“The book really was a turning point for me because the Health Council of Canada recommended that every practitioner in the country have a copy of the book. It had very positive reviews in the Canadian and even the American literature. It was clearly a book that met a need at the right time.”
Reflecting on her long and varied career, Dr. Gray says there is one constant that propelled her forward: her love of learning.
“As long as I’m learning, I’m delighted to stay on and get involved and do whatever is necessary,” she says. Adding, “The point that I would always make to residents and to students was that when you graduate from medical school your knowledge will be obsolete in five years’ time. If you don’t have a mechanism to continue your own learning, you’re not going to be useful to the health care system. That was certainly something I believed in very strongly and I just tried to make sure others understood that as well.”
Dr. Gray will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame on April 17 at the 2020 Induction Ceremony in Vancouver, B.C.