Know Your Heroes: Caitlin Gillan

Know Your Heroes showcases the many different people and roles that make up #TeamUHN. We celebrate these people, who strive to make the world a healthier place every day.

Name: Caitlin Gillan
Title: Manager, Education & Practice, Joint Department of Medical Imaging (JDMI) and Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP)
Number of years working in health care: 13
I was born and raised in: Toronto

I decided to get into health care because it seemed like such a well-defined career, with clear requirements of me in serving others: that I master the clinical and technical aspects, that I be empathic, and that I consider the needs and wishes of the patient above my own. That said, education was actually one of my first passions, and it did not take me long to see how I could incorporate that meaningfully into my healthcare career.

My role here at UHN is to create structures and opportunities that equip current and future healthcare professionals to practise in an ever-evolving healthcare system. I often feel like a bridge between our hospital clinical leaders and our academic partners at The Michener Institute of Education at UHN and the University of Toronto, looking to optimize the learning experiences we can provide to healthcare students. I also manage the Advanced Imaging Education Centre in JDMI, leveraging our incredible depth and breadth of expertise to benefit professionals from other institutions. Finally, one of my key roles is to champion the concept of academic practice for non-physician medical imaging and laboratory medicine professionals – to provide resources, research mentorship, and the necessary culture to allow them a strong voice in informing care.

COVID-19 has affected me by highlighting the relationship between supporting education in the clinical environment and equipping the system with necessary health human resources. Education is truly an exercise in self-preservation for individual professions and the broader system – and it is integral to UHN’s role as an academic hospital. While we rightly needed to put a pause on some clinical education in the first months of COVID, the level of creativity and collaboration that emerged to reinstate the majority of learning opportunities was really inspiring. Our need for qualified medical imaging and laboratory medicine professionals continues to increase, in part due to COVID, and we need to find ways to recruit and prepare them within a COVID-strained system. Knowing this has really motivated me to rally our clinical and education leaders to think differently about building capacity for education in our clinical departments.

The thing I love the most about my job is
bearing witness to the accomplishments of others whom I’ve had the opportunity to teach or mentor.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is how much people still have to give, despite all that has been required of them recently. My job is often about asking for things – asking medical imaging and laboratory medicine staff to accommodate a clinical placement for a student, or asking an expert to contribute their expertise to teaching in a course. Their collective ability to juggle priorities, maintain high-quality service, and still champion the importance of clinical education and academic practice is a testament to the incredible people who work at UHN.

I’m inspired by
the flexibility of learners. Medical imaging and laboratory medicine students have had their training impacted by COVID – transitions to virtual learning, lack of access to certain types of cases, and the inability to socialize normally with others in their profession. Through this, they need to manage the most critical learning time in their careers in a setting where others – staff, patients, educators – are all under incredible stress as they manage equally unfamiliar times. The students initially impacted by COVID are now graduated, certified and fully ensconced in the workforce, and many of them are already charged with teaching the next cohort of students who will soon join them in practice. What’s more inspiring than watching the future unfold in this way?

One of my personal heroes is Dr. Pamela Catton because she was always a champion for learners and for those who carved out space in their clinical practice to mentor them. Though Pam passed away a few years ago, her voice (and her infectious laugh!) still resonates – be it whether I’m navigating a major career crossroads or just trying to cut the “fluff” from an academic paper I’m working on. Her legacy of creating opportunity and establishing value for forward-thinking interprofessional education and academic practice is unmatched. A group of us still gets together every year on her birthday to celebrate that legacy (even though she herself rarely celebrated her birthday!).

I sometimes worry about how to effectively challenge people to think differently about how we do things, to the benefit of our learners, our patients and the care we provide.

I’ve found joy recently from working with a collaborative group of laboratory medicine professionals across professions and laboratory divisions to build a transformative Education Strategic Plan that will empower us to work toward a common goal. Anyone I’ve worked with will know how excited I get about sharing expertise, knowledge and opportunities between aligned groups!

My favourite book (or movie) is ever-changing because it really depends on my frame of mind or what I’m looking for in a given moment – an escape, a laugh, an epic masterpiece, etc. Most recently, I read Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars, about a nurse managing a maternity ward in 1918 war-and pandemic-ravaged Dublin. It was an incredible reflection on women, empathy and overcoming circumstance. 

My ideal day off is not how I’ve spent recent vacation days – which is catching up on my ongoing PhD thesis work, looking at how healthcare professionals prepare for an artificial intelligence-enabled future practice. Instead, I’m looking forward to a day at the Toronto Zoo with my four-year-old son, Charlie.

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