May 17, 2022

The 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

Calgary, AB – 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. 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.”

Dr. Michelle Keir, MD, a clinician-researcher and principal investigator

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 practise. 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. Many women would minimize or try to explain away their experiences. For some, it was likely a coping mechanism to normalize the experiences.”

Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD, a clinician-researcher and first author

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 CSM and UCalgary.

“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. 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.”

Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, director of the Libin Institute and head of the Dept. of Cardiac Sciences

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 recognise that these womens’ 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 faculty, and students, 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 here.

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 Dr. Shannon Ruzycki at

Media inquiries

Kelly Johnston
Senior communications specialist, media relations
Cumming School of Medicine, UCalgary

Angela Unsworth
Director, Communications
Medical Affairs and Alberta Surgical Initiative, AHS

About the University of Calgary
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About Alberta Health Services
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.