Dr. Sharon Whiting wins prestigious AFMC May Cohen Award
Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2022
For Dr. Sharon Whiting, the widespread reckoning with systemic racism spurred by the 2020 police slaying of George Floyd in the U.S. provided a rare opportunity for the field of medicine to make important advancements in the cause of equity.
“When the George Floyd incident happened and the world erupted into ensuring EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) had a wider lens, I felt that we had to really seize that momentum,” says Dr. Whiting, Vice-Dean of Faculty Affairs at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine. "The window of opportunity can be quite small and cultural change takes time."
Dr. Whiting should know – her career has been about seizing the moment to ensure progress is made on the important work of advancing equity and diversity in medicine and education. From the earliest days of her tenure at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine over three decades ago, she has been a driving force at working toward an equitable and diverse work and learning environment for women and minority groups.
Now, Dr. Whiting is being recognized across Canada for her vision and her many achievements. She is the 2022 winner of the May Cohen Equity, Diversity and Gender Award. It’s a high-profile national honour from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), which represents the 17 medical faculties across the country.
The national award recognizes the outstanding efforts of an individual, program, department, or faculty in improving the equity diversity, gender and inclusivity environment in academic medicine in Canada. It comes with a $1,500 honorarium.
Dr. Whiting says she was “thrilled and proud” when she heard she’d receive this recognition from the AFMC. “I think it really shines a strong light on what we have been doing here at the Faculty of Medicine,” she says.
In her nomination letter, Faculty of Medicine Dean Dr. Bernard Jasmin praised Dr. Whiting’s many significant contributions over the years. “In the current climate shedding light on gender inequity and race-based disparities in health care and beyond, it is imperative that we have leaders like Dr. Whiting blazing a path for change and inclusivity,” he wrote.
In its latest Strategic Plan, the Faculty of Medicine has highlighted Engagement and EDI as top priorities—and it’s been Dr. Whiting who has been leading the charge in conceptualizing the way forward.
Stemming from her portfolio are the Faculty Wellness Program, the Office of Professionalism, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). In her role as Vice-Dean of Faculty Affairs, she oversees the clinical faculty appointment process, annual reviews and academic promotions. She led the creation of a recruitment and retention policy that explicitly outlines best practices and procedures to favor diversity and inclusivity.
In overseeing the EDI office, Dr. Whiting ensures that the Faculty of Medicine upholds a climate of mutual respect, along with the highest standards of ethical and professional behavior. Her team at the EDI Office has created several groups and initiatives whose aims are to empower and provide support for women and minority groups.
These include the Women Faculty Mentoring program, Women Postdoctoral Fellows Mentoring program, and the Sexual and Gender Minority Members Mentoring programs. The newest among them is a mentorship program for Black medical students that has been thriving and growing with support Faculty and resident mentors.
Over the years, she’s been very active on committees, both at uOttawa and beyond, dedicated to the issues of inclusion and diversity. She has also been a member of important groups and associations, including the Federation of Medical Women and the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario.
She’s achieved all this while managing significant clinical duties at CHEO and conducting research. Dr. Whiting’s research program focuses on epilepsy, particularly in children. She is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and staff physician in the Division of Neurology at CHEO.
Dr. Whiting says much more needs to be accomplished with truly achieving equity, particularly using an antiracism lens, but she’s proud to have made all the positive differences that she has so far. Moving forward, she says people across the faculties need to be able to lean in to discomfort, because that’s how the hard work of real change is realized.
“You cannot get through to the other side unless you go through rough waters. If you want meaningful change, you're going to have discomfort, you're going to have some disruption. I am very comfortable with disruption,” she says. “For me, it’s all about systemic change and I don't think we can do that unless we take a big picture approach.”