May 18, 2022

Libin Institute and Department of Cardiac Sciences implement new anti-harassment and discrimination programs

Study identifies areas where system-level interventions and supports for women are needed
Michelle Keir, Paul Fedak, and Shannon Ruzycki
From left: Michelle Keir, Paul Fedak, and Shannon Ruzycki. Dawn Smith, University of Calgary

Enhanced supports and education to protect physicians and staff at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and Department of Cardiac Sciences, a joint initiative between the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and Alberta Health Services (AHS), from harassment and discrimination have been developed thanks to a study led by Dr. Michelle Keir, MD, and Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD.

“We listened to women’s experiences that have occurred throughout their career in cardiology at various institutions in Canada,” says Keir, clinician-researcher and principal investigator of the study. “We learned that a lot of women have suffered in silence. Some of their comments will be shocking to many and have outlined that we need to rethink how to interact with each other.”

Study participants described incidents of harassment and discrimination in their career throughout Canada, and though not all participants agreed that harassment or discrimination was common in cardiology, all provided examples of gender-based discrimination.

Findings in the study have resulted in new training programs and system changes including bias training sessions which have been incorporated into the hiring practice. As well, all people on a hiring selection committee must have completed training related to diversity and inclusion. In addition, sessions led by Well Doc Alberta and the Physician Wellness, Diversity and Development Portfolio have been held to support those who may be dealing with trauma and/or wellness concerns. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta is also hosting sessions on professional misconduct. AHS is developing new processes for physicians to safely report issues related to harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

“We found that incidents of harassment and discrimination are wide-spread and are not unique to one institution,” says Ruzycki, a clinician-researcher and first author on the study. “Many women would minimize or try to explain away their experiences. For some, it was likely a coping mechanism to normalize the experiences.”

Keir is the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) lead at the Libin Institute. After being appointed to the position, leadership at CSM and AHS empowered Keir to conduct research to explore what was happening in the department and to form an EDI committee. Funding for the study was provided by the Libin Institute, the Cumming School of Medicine and the University of Calgary.

“There have been a number of surveys through the years, and papers written indicating a prevalence of harassment and discrimination against women in cardiology,” says Keir. “However, we felt we really needed to explore personal experiences in order to design interventions, create supports, and facilitate empathy, support and allyship among leadership.”

“We are taking this seriously,” says Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, director of the Libin Institute and head of the Department of Cardiac Sciences. “We are trying to move the needle and address systemic barriers. The work Dr. Keir and Dr. Ruzycki have done will help guide the process to make things better.”

Fedak adds CSM and AHS leadership will be working with the EDI committee to define more strategies, which will include the joint funding of an AHS and CSM sex and gender-based violence educator to enhance literacy training in this area for physicians and physician learners. Grounded in community-building and collaborative practices, the senior specialist, gender violence education will build anti-violence capacity among learners and educators, provide expert sexual violence education consultation and assessment, and create and deliver sexual violence-focused education and training.

“We are committed to being leaders that are part of reshaping the future and changing the culture,” says Fedak.

The women who agreed to share their stories represent health care professionals in cardiology in various roles and at various stages of their careers. We would like to thank each of the women who participated in the study and shared their stories. We recognize that these women’s experiences may bring up difficult emotions or memories for some. If this describes you, you are not alone. We encourage you to reach out for support:

  • Physicians and trainees can contact the Physician and Family Support Program (1-877-SOS-4MDS – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week),
  • University of Calgary students and faculty can contact the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Support Team, LifeWorks Employee and Family Assistance (1-866-424-0699) and Albertans may phone or text Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence (1-866-403-8000). 

If you are a member of the University of Calgary community  and wish to confidentially share an experience of discrimination or harassment, you have the options of contacting the CSM’s Office of Professionalism, Equity and Diversity and/or UCalgary’s Office of Protected Disclosure and Research Integrity.  You can also review a more comprehensive list of available CSM-specific supports and resources.

The study is published in CJC Open.

If you are a member of the CSM and considering conducting similar research in your department and wish to learn more about work done at the Libin Institute and Department of Cardiac Sciences, or other CSM reviews looking at gender disparities, please contact Shannon Ruzycki at

Paul Fedak is a professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences and Surgery at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is the head of the Department of Cardiac Sciences and director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM. 

Michelle Keir is a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences, Medicine, and Community Health Sciences at the CSM and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM.

Shannon Ruzycki is a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences at the CSM and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.