Advancing global womens' health an aim for St. Joe’s physician

March 27, 2016

Community News

St. Joseph’s Health Centre is a Catholic teaching hospital that provides care that reflects the values of respect, dignity and compassion. Every day our people embrace this approach to care in the work they do both inside and outside the Health Centre.

Last year, Dr. Suzanne Wong, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist, volunteered her medical expertise as part of an international health program. She joins a growing number of physicians who are finding new ways to live our mission and values and make a difference in the international community.

Dr. Wong’s journey to become a medical volunteer began here in Toronto through her work as a consultant for Medcan a medical clinic with a commitment to supporting humanitarian work. Through their partnership with two sister clinics in northern and central Kenya they are improving access to medical care through outreach, training and education. Last October, Dr. Wong made the trip to Kenya and spent two weeks as a volunteer physician. During her visit, she established a cervical cancer screening program and successfully screened over 200 women. She also conducted workshops and educated local clinicians on a variety of women’s health issues.

Dr. Suzanne Wong

Dr. Suzanne Wong

“This was the first opportunity for many of the women in this area to receive a cancer screening of any kind,” said Dr. Wong. “The clinicians were very keen and motivated to learn how to screen properly, so that they could best serve the women in their communities, who are vital to the well-being of their own families.”

The importance of cervical cancer screening

In Canada, where pap smear screening is routine and the HPV vaccine is provided free of charge to young girls, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease. In Kenya where that care is unavailable, it is the most frequent cancer among women and carries a mortality rate seven times higher than in Canada. Dr. Wong recommended adding cervical cancer screening to the Naweza program using an innovative, low-cost, ‘see and treat’ procedure. This allows for identification and treatment of potentially cancerous lesions with a one-time visit that requires no follow up.

“We talked about customized care for each patient and how to make good treatment decisions. When I was on the outreach trips we reviewed cases and identified treatment options,” says Dr. Wong.

Building local capacity and expertise

The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading a worldwide effort to reduce and prevent the number of premature deaths caused by non-communicable diseases by 25 per cent by 2025 and cites preventing cervical cancer through screening as an important, high-impact intervention.

To ensure the sustainability of the screening program at the two clinics, Dr. Wong worked extensively to build capacity with local healthcare workers.

Before leaving, she ensured they registered in a formal certification course. Dr. Wong’s relationship with colleagues at the University of Toronto helped to make this possible.

“By collaborating with the University of Toronto we ensure this project has long-term impact and help us deliver world-class healthcare in developing countries.  I’m so proud of what we accomplished together,” said Dr. Wong.

Since her return from Kenya, Dr. Wong has been conducting Skype calls with Kenyan-based clinic staff every few weeks to review interesting cases and offer continuous support on complex cases.

“Our goal was to train the trainers. We wanted them to be certified, continue the program and be able to tap into the network at the local university for support,” Dr. Wong said. “We hope that as new people come on board, they’ll share their expertise and the learning will continue.”

For Dr. Wong this experience has fulfilled her goal to participate in a program that contributes to building medical infrastructure in communities that need it

“There is much more work to be done to meet the WHO’s goal of reducing communicable disease by 25% by 2025, but we’re moving in the right direction. We’re working towards curing cancer by preventing it.”

Read about all five medical outreach trips at

About Dr. Suzanne Wong:

For the past 13 years Dr. Wong has delivered babies and cared for women with childbirth and reproductive health issues at St. Joe’s Toronto. She has also served as the Medical Director of Obstetrics and as President of the Medical Staff Association (MSA). She now focuses on best practice in obstetrics nationally and internationally through her work as Co-Chair of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada’s Obstetrical Content Review Committee.

The Harvard Medical School graduate enjoys the collaborative atmosphere of working at a community hospital and the opportunity to pursue teaching and academic work through St. Joe’s affiliation with the University of Toronto, where she is an Associate Professor. When she’s not supporting patients you find her spending time with her family and playing tennis.