Dr. Anthea Lafreniere
From her first year in medical school, Dr. Anthea Lafreniere was drawn to the system side of medicine, recognizing that better health outcomes are influenced by many factors beyond the point of care. That interest spurred her to join the Canadian delegation at the International Federation of Medical Student Associations' meeting in Santiago, Chile, in 2013.
"It was my first exposure to the world of medical politics," she says. "I was hooked right away."
Advocating for patient empowerment is a particular area of focus for Dr. Lafreniere — one that led to her involvement in the development of MyPathologyReport.ca. A fellow resident was working on an online resource to empower patients by helping them understand their own diagnoses and pathologies, and asked Dr. Lafreniere to join the project. As a researcher and communications lead, she engaged with patients and ensured research methodologies were sensitive to their needs.
Today, MyPathologyReport.ca is widely used across Ontario, integrated directly with several electronic medical record systems to make patient access even easier.
"Contributing to a project like that was an opportunity to make a bigger difference for patients than I could by spending a day at a microscope," says Dr. Lafreniere. "By helping people understand what's really going on with their own health, this project helps people gain back a sense of control that illness can sometimes take away."
Leading into the future
While studying at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Lafreniere joined several committees at the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. It didn't take long for her to become President in 2015.
She has since served on the boards of multiple medical organizations including the Canadian Resident Matching Service, the Canadian Medical Association and Resident Doctors of Canada (RDOC). She is the past president of the Professional Association of Residents of Ontario (PARO).
In her roles with PARO and RDOC, she has advocated tirelessly for equity and fairness for Ontario's 5,500 residents, work that has become even more critical during COVID-19. She was part of the negotiating team for the 2019 resident collective agreement, ensuring the contract included the best possible working conditions, training and transitions for all residents.
Dr. Lafreniere says her leadership experience has given her a broader, system-level view and allowed her to approach research in her specialty — anatomical pathology — in a way that accounts for more of the medical system as a whole.
"It helps me step out of the clinical bubble and engage with people much more than we anatomical pathologists usually do," she says. "But my decisions are still informed by clinical experience."
When her residency is over, Dr. Lafreniere plans to complete a fellowship in pediatric pathology but has no intention of giving up leadership roles.
"I really love organizational leadership, and it turns out I'm good at it, too," she says. "Watch out — my next move might be to get an MBA so I can become the CEO of a hospital."
Dr. Anthea Lafreniere is receiving the CMA Award for Young Leaders (Resident) in recognition of her exemplary dedication, commitment and leadership in political service, education and research.