SUDBURY -- Dr. Sarah McIsaac is a Sudbury physician who has earned a national award for her work in the community that will benefit the local medical school.

McIsaac won the Canadian Women in Medicine's second annual Inspiring Woman Physician award. Canadian Women in Medicine is a non-profit organization for "female physicians to learn, decompress and network in a safe environment," says the organization's website.

"I was completely taken aback to be one of four recipients of this year's recipients of this amazing award," said McIsaac.

Dr. Sarah McIsaac's Inspiring Woman Physician awar


She wears many hats in the community. She is an anesthesiologist and intensivist (a physician who provides special care for critically ill patients) at Health Sciences North (HSN), an assistant professor at Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), co-founder of Northern City of Heroes and helped create a new CPR training exhibit at Science North.

 Award winners are nominated by a fellow female colleague for work in clinical duties, education, advocacy or community initiatives, and are also supported by an anonymous donor with a cash prize.  

McIsaac is donating her award money to establish a faculty wellness program at the local medical school.

"We work in a high-stress job and I think it's really important that we stay well, we stay positive, we make sure there are opportunities that we recognize each other and we recognize the accomplishments of what we do," said McIsaac.

Canadian Women in Medicine has provided her with so much support during her career, with role models and leadership, that she wanted to give back to the community.

"I was really humbled to receive this award, and I wanted to amplify it so much in northern Ontario," said McIsaac. "So what I've done is I've donated the money back to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine."

As the school's medical director of faculty development, she is in the process of developing wellness program for faculty. She said there is a lot of support available for undergraduates and post-graduates, but there is a lack of formal programming and initiatives to support people at the faculty level.

Through the new program, she wants to create a culture of both personal and professional support in medicine in the north and, ultimately, a healthier community.

She said the program will help around 1,700 faculty members across northern Ontario.

"I'm not from northern Ontario, but I consider myself now an adoptive northerner, if you will," said McIsaac. "And it's because so many people welcomed our family here and made us feel so much part of this community that we've been able to do these community initiatives and, hopefully, contribute back in a small way to the overall health of our community."

One of those community initiatives is teaching people how to do hands-only CPR.

She and her husband, Dr. Robert Ohle, who is an emergency medicine physician at HSN, aim to improve out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rates through a community-led initiative called Northern City Heroes.

It began with a "med talk" at Science North April 2019 and now has local high school students trained in how to teach CPR and give presentations at local schools and virtually through social media. The tutorials are free and teach people how to do proper chest compressions at home that have the potential to save someone's life. All you need is an internet connection and a couple of rolls of toilet paper.

"We really wanted to advocate that bystanders learn how to do hands-only chest compressions so we could increase our rates of bystander CPR and hopefully, one day, improve our out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rates," said McIsaac.

The Sudbury doctor said that 80 per cent of heart attacks happen at home and every minute that a person's heart is not pumping effective increases your rates of either death or severe neurological injury.

"Your heart functions as a pump and so if your heart's not pumping, it's no longer pumping oxygen-enriched blood to vital organs particularly your brain," said McIsaac. "By doing chest compressions, you effectively become the heart, you function as a pump. You keep the heart pumping, you pump blood round and round, and you buy that person time until the emergency medical services arrive."

She said data from a couple of years ago show that only 44 per cent of people experiencing an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest received bystander CPR.

"We live in a very large geographically dispersed community here and we have amazing paramedics, amazing emergency medical services here, but sometimes it's just a matter of distance and time," said McIsaac. "No matter how fast they drive or how many potholes are in the road, it'll take them time."

In addition to the student-let tutorials, she has helped to create the first hands-only CPR and AED exhibit in North America that recently opened at Sudbury's Science North.

Hands-only CPR exhibit at Sudbury's Science North


Her words of advice to anyone interested in pursuing a career in medicine?

"Keep inspiring!" McIsaac said. "I did not get into medicine on my first try. It was not the straightest path into medicine and there are lots of bumps along the way. But at the same time, there are a lot of people that picked me up when I fell down. Keep trying, keep asking for help…You don't do this on your own, you do this as a community, where lots of people help you to get you to where you are."

She encourages aspiring doctors to try to find a mentor and said she is always open to answering questions about the field.

"You don't need to fit this mould of what a physician should look like, should act like, should be like," said McIsaac. "This is a career that many young girls can go into and thrive and do really well. It's a great career to have as a female and as a mother."

Connect with Dr. Sarah McIsaac online.