Once again for 2021, McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences honoured a selection of its many distinguished members with awards, this year highlighting women in science and their ground-breaking work. Given the current restrictions on social gatherings related to the COVID pandemic, a ceremony was not possible, however this year’s winners shared with us some of their reflections on what fuels their passion for change and innovation. Here is a look at this year’s recipients and prizes.

Maude Abbott Prize
The Faculty established The Maude Abbott Prize in 2010 to recognize outstanding female faculty members at an early career stage who have excelled and demonstrated great leadership in education, research or administration. This year’s area of focus was on leadership in administration. This year, exceptionally, two candidates were chosen as the selection committee decided both were extremely deserving of the prize. The 2021 Maude Abbott Prize recipients are:

Dr. Lisa Münter, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Dr. Münter’s research focuses on the molecular pathways leading to Alzheimer’s disease. She obtained a Dr. rer. nat. degree in Biochemistry at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2007. Her postdoctoral years were spent at the University of Melbourne in the department of Pathology and the Freie Universität Berlin (2007-2012). She joined the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics in June 2012 and was promoted to Associate Professor in June 2019.

Dr. Samara Zavalkoff, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics
Dr. Zavalkoff, is a pediatric intensivist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McGill. She obtained her MDCM degree from McGill University in 2003. She subsequently did her residency in pediatrics and pediatric critical care medicine also at McGill before going on to complete Fellowship training in pediatric critical care medicine at the world-renowned Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. She returned on Faculty at McGill in 2010.

Haile T. Debas Prize
This award was also established in 2010 in order to recognize outstanding faculty members who have worked hard to help promote diversity and create an environment of inclusivity, which could be by acting as role model(s), mentor(s), or by implementing new policies so as to increase underrepresented minorities in undergraduate or postgraduate training, faculty recruitment, retention and/or promotion.

The 2021 Haile T. Debas Prize is awarded to Dr. Anita Brown-Johnson, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Dr. Brown-Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Associate Member in the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, and in the Faculty of Dentistry.  She earned her medical/M.D.C.M. degree from McGill University in 1988 and completed her Family Medicine Residency at McGill University, Montreal General Hospital in 1990. Dr. Brown-Johnson completed Royal Canadian Legion Award sponsored Geriatrics Fellowship training at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Geriatric Centre in 1998. She was nominated Fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada in 2005. In 2012, Dr. Brown-Johnson completed the McGill Leadership Development Program. She was appointed Chief of Family Medicine at the McGill University Health Centre earlier this year.

Rosemary Wedderburn Brown Prize
Established in 2010, this award is aimed at full-time faculty members in the health professional Schools of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (Communication Sciences and Disorders, Nursing, Physical and Occupational Therapy), in order to recognize individuals with outstanding scholarly potential and demonstrated research excellence in the early stages of their career.

The 2021 Rosemary Wedderburn Brown Prize is awarded to Dr. Noémie Auclair Ouellet, Assistant Professor, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Dr. Noémie Auclair-Ouellet’s research focuses on underserved populations including people with chronic aphasia, people with neurodegenerative disorders, and adolescents and young adults with communication disorders. She joined the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2017. She completed a clinical Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Université Laval (Québec) and doctoral degrees from Université de Neuchâtel (Language Sciences and Communication) and Université Laval (Experimental Medicine). Subsequently, she went on to earn a post-doctoral fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary.

Paving the road ahead for women in science
UIS data demonstrates that in 2021, women still account for less than 30% of the world’s researchers[1]. It is a well-known fact that certain fields like STEM remain male-dominated although this trend is changing thanks to various initiatives, including some of those led by this year’s laureates.
For Dr. Auclair-Ouellet, now is a time filled with opportunities for change: “It’s a very exciting time to be in research, to see all of those people who come from diverse backgrounds joining forces, bringing their points of view and their perspectives. I think it’s extremely rich and we’ll all be stronger for it.” As Dr. Brown-Johnson reflected on her award, she shared her view of how the values it celebrates are crucial to the pursuit of excellence: “…equity, diversity and inclusion must be embraced as a new direction for the best practices in sciences and medicine if we are truly to achieve our full potential as a society, as a whole.’’

Allyship and gender equity
While many women continue to pave the way for the next generation, awards such as these stand as a form of recognition and reminder of the need for diversity and gender equity. They also contribute to greater representation, which can motivate more women to pursue careers in science and give way to necessary conversations. Dr. Münter explains: “It’s very important to have representation because there is a factor of community and reinforcing each other…having a group of women meeting. Discussing issues openly and frankly regarding elements of concern to them is so helpful.”

Allyship also remains a crucial component in transforming existing structures with the goal of gender equity. For Dr. Zavalkoff, it isn’t a matter of learning how to navigate the system but one of changing it: “It’s been such a long history of living with this language and behaviour that many of us [in Medicine] just think it’s part of the culture…it’s about looking at our own biases and changing the system so that it breeds the function [of change towards gender equity.]”

As all of this year’s award recipients expressed gratitude for the important recognition they received, they also did not miss the opportunity to highlight the need to empower others through one’s own successes. As Dr. Brown-Johnson reminded: “As you continue to grow in your field, don’t forget to give back and bring others along with you.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s laureates!
[1] http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/women-science (accessed June 3rd, 2021)

June 14, 2021