Jul 27, 2023

Dr. Janet Bodley named Sunnybrook's chief of obstetrics and gynaecology

Dr. Janet Bodley
Photo courtesy of Sunnybrook Studios
By Nick Patch

The first time Dr. Jessica Smith encountered Dr. Janet Bodley, Smith was a recent medical school graduate being interviewed to match to a residency program, while Bodley was one of the panellists sitting on the other side of the interview, tasked with judging her qualifications.

Transitioning to residency can be stressful for anyone, and after matching with the University of Toronto, Smith faced the added complications of a relocation from Windsor. She knew the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology had a wellness program, but she certainly did not anticipate how personally involved Bodley would soon become in supporting her — not only through the earliest years of residency, but well into her medical career.

“Right from the beginning, Dr. Bodley took me under her wing, offered to help me get settled, asked me if I needed any resources — and she even offered to help me find a new family physician,” Smith recalls now. “I was a bit surprised by how dedicated she was to it. I never expected her to help me with these little life things. She definitely helped me adjust.

“It felt good to have a person who was basically in two roles for me and my co-residents — Dr. Bodley was obviously our superior who was there to train and teach us, but she was also a wellness figure. We knew we could confide in her, whether it was about a personal issue or a difficult case.

“Obviously, you hope everyone cares about you on a deeper level than as a trainee — but I always knew for sure that Dr. Bodley did.”

Smith is hardly alone among the trainees, physicians, and other staff who can personally and enthusiastically attest to Bodley’s devotion to promoting wellness and fostering a supportive atmosphere for learners, trainees, and staff physicians alike.

That is part of the reason why so many in the ob-gyn community were thrilled by the news that Bodley had been named the new chief of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, as well as program chief of Sunnybrook’s DAN Women & Babies Program. Bodley assumed the role on July 1.

Since beginning her career at Sunnybrook in 2003, Bodley has prioritized wellness as part of her many administrative and leadership duties. She was appointed as the inaugural director of our University Department’s resident wellness program and as the inaugural physician wellness lead at Sunnybrook. She was also chair of Sunnybrook’s wellness leads committee and a member of the Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN)’s physician wellness working group.

Over the years, Bodley made this work in the wellness area a priority despite her many other clinical, educational, and research-related responsibilities because she has long understood the importance of personal and professional fulfillment, in medicine and beyond.

“Fundamentally, in order to excel and be happy in your work — in order to really be your best — you need to be well. I think this concept that you need to have balance and figure out how you integrate your work into the rest of your life is really important.” Bodley says. “You need to have a perspective on how if you don’t look after the personal side of things, you can go down a deep hole of burnout that can have bad implications for patient care and for the learning environment we have created for our trainees.

“I think if somebody described me, they might say that my fundamental principle is that I care a lot about other people and I want other people to be looked after — whether that’s patients, friends, or family. I think that’s one of my deepest values.”

In fact, that deep-seated desire to help people is what inspired Bodley to get into medicine in the first place.

As young as 12 years old, Bodley was determined to become a doctor. The daughter of a nutritionist mother — who was an associate professor at U of T — and an accountant father, Bodley didn’t have any physicians in her family to serve as a role model, but she nevertheless went through junior high school and high school with a clear focus on becoming a doctor.

Initially, Bodley thought she might want to work in paediatrics, until a longitudinal elective course she took during her medical school training at U of T paired her with an ob-gyn and helped her discover her eventual specialty.

“I like doing things technically with my hands — I knit, I bake, I cook — and I was eager to apply those technical skills to patient care,” she recalls. “This combination of having a longitudinal practice but also having a practice where you are able to provide surgery and deliver babies — that really appealed to me.”

Ultimately, Bodley would stay with the University of Toronto for medical school and residency before completing a combined fellowship in our Department in urogynaecology, pelvic reconstructive surgery, and advanced laparoscopy.

She also obtained a Master of Education degree from U of T, a testament to the level of commitment that Bodley has put toward teaching. That commitment is reinforced by several prestigious teaching awards she has won over the years, including the MD Program Teaching Award for Excellence, the Master Teacher Award, and the Award for Teaching Excellence.

“Dr. Bodley is a very good surgical teacher and a very good obstetrical teacher,” said Dr. Michael Chaikof, who trained with Bodley as a resident and a fellow. “One of my first twin deliveries was with Dr. Bodley as a PGY1, and I remember how she managed to remain really calm, allowed me to get involved in the delivery, and gave me clear instructions and direct feedback in a way that made me comfortable to ask questions and push myself to get better.

“She is very patient and she never loses her cool, even under very stressful clinical situations, and she treats all residents with respect. No matter your background or your skill level, everyone has a chance to learn with her.”

For residents, training and wellness are intrinsically tied — not only is it important for trainees to feel as though they are making progress in the development of key skills and knowledge areas, but their wellbeing can certainly be affected by challenging clinical situations or outcomes.

It was in those difficult moments that Bodley consistently sought to offer support and a sympathetic ear.

“Dr. Bodley would often be the first person to reach out to residents or colleagues who have had a tough shift, a bad outcome, or a difficult case,” Smith says. “During training, if I knew that one of my co-residents was struggling with something, I would — with the person’s consent — tell Dr. Bodley and she would reach out to that person.

“With the culture of medicine shifting for the better, we’re taught that you need to talk about the traumatic cases and get the support of your peers. Dr. Bodley is a champion of making us feel comfortable talking about these things, rather than feeling ashamed or keeping it to ourselves. She’s a very good listener. She really values her role as a mentor and a wellness coordinator and she always makes time for us. I really value that.”

Other colleagues recall Bodley offering crucial support during overwhelming periods in their personal lives.

When Dr. Humara Edell had her first child as a resident, Bodley even offered to babysit so the family could have a little break.

“She was actually the first non-family member to babysit for us — this is how dedicated she is to resident wellness,” recalls Edell, who says she was inspired to pursue urogynaecology in part because of Bodley’s mentorship. “Dr. Bodley truly cares about the wellness of learners and her colleagues and this is apparent in her everyday actions.

“As I progressed through my residency, I continued to gain more respect and appreciation for those mentors who remained calm in our often chaotic specialty — and Dr. Bodley is definitely at the top of that list. I have always loved working with Dr. Bodley and she has taught me so much and helped me become the doctor I am today.”

For many former trainees in our Department — who might have formed a bond with Bodley as they trained under her, or perhaps as they shared takeout and wine at the resident book club meetings she hosted at her home — that relationship has endured well beyond residency.

“Dr. Bodley was and still is my first phone call when I run into trouble,” says Chaikof. “Unfortunately in ob-gyn, bad outcomes can be a reality of our work. When I was a resident dealing with a difficult clinical situation or outcome, Dr. Bodley was often my first phone call. That was still true when I was a fellow, and it’s true for me even now as faculty.”

As Bodley assumes her new role as chief at Sunnybrook, those who worked closely with her in our Department are confident in her ability to effect change and advocate for important initiatives.

“She is mild-mannered, humble, and not ego-driven at all. She just cares very much about people and their experiences. She’s able to accomplish so much but does it in a non-threatening way — she’s able to make friends and allies with people across the spectrum of the administration of the different institutions,” said Dr. Michèle Farrugia, our Department’s residency program director.  “I think she’s just very kind and genuine — a solid, down-to-earth person. I think people perceive that.”

“Janet has been wonderful to work with,” said Jill Tomac, residency program officer. “She has a steady, welcoming presence and is always thoughtful and available to provide feedback or lend a hand. The residents love her selfie station at events! Her contributions have helped to round out the residency curriculum in terms of resident wellbeing, coaching and mentorship.”

Bodley, for her part, says she hopes in her new role to build on the great work started by her predecessors, including Dr. Arthur Zaltz.

“I feel humbled and privileged that I was the successful candidate for this job,” Bodley says. “To be honest, I’m a little bit nervous because it’s a big change and a big role, so I have a lot of learning to do. I’m on a steep learning curve. But I also know there are people around me that have already started to support, help, and mentor me through this transition.

“I’ve also been fortunate to have some important leadership and administrative roles at both the hospital and the University. I hope I can bring the experience I gained in those interactions to help build and support the department, and ultimately take quality of care, patient experience, research, and education to the next level.”

Just as Bodley says she is leaning on her colleagues during a time of transition, those who trained under her continue to look to Bodley as a role model. Some look at Bodley — a mother of three who is also an avid runner — as living proof that it is possible to have a thriving career in their chosen specialty without sacrificing the other important things in life.

“We need a model for how to do this career because it’s hard, and Dr. Bodley is a very good model,” Smith says. “Even though we work crazy hours and do a very difficult job, Dr. Bodley makes time for her family, she makes time for exercise, she makes time for mental health, and she speaks openly about the importance of these things.

“She has been an incredible mentor and model, and I’m hoping that I can have those qualities and take on that role for learners in my career.”