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Women of VCH: Dr. Fern von der Porten, Emergency Physician


In honour of International Women's Day — Tuesday, March 8 — we're highlighting just a few of the thousands of incredible women who help us deliver exceptional care at Vancouver Coastal Health. Read about all of them in VCH News stories and see more photos on our VCH Instagram and Facebook channels

Imagine getting to live and work in one of the most beautiful yet rugged destinations in the world, while also helping others. This is the reality for Dr. Fern von der Porten, Emergency Physician and Medical Director of the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC) and avid ski patroller.

The WHCC serves more than 22,000 patients each year, with roughly 1,500 requiring critical care. On busy days, the WHCC can see 50 or more  patients with ski or snowboard-related injuries. Fern says she relishes the busy atmosphere and takes every opportunity to learn and grow. 

“I’m an adventure-loving person and working in the emergency department in Whistler is just that,” says Fern. “Every day presents a new challenge requiring teamwork and creativity. You have to have a real passion for the job."

Fern says growing up in Whistler has provided her with a unique lens, and that a career in health care had always been her calling. 

“I wanted to work at the WHCC since I was a child, back when it was basically just a trailer,” Fern says. “This is the community I have always known and loved, and the goal to work here has guided my choices along the way.”

In her time away from the ED, Fern is a Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patroller. “For ten days each winter, I respond to incidents on the mountain,” says Fern. “This is an invaluable experience as it gives me a greater understanding of what happens before patients arrive at the WHCC, better informing their care.” 

In addition, Fern is also a Board Member of the Whistler Health Care Foundation, has worked with the Canadian Alpine Ski Team and is a devoted mother of two. 

Fern was also instrumental in the recent expansion and modernization of the WHCC trauma unit, enhancing the ability of medical staff to care for patients, and respond to and treat critical cases.

She says her mother, Dr. Wendy Porten, has been the most inspiring figure throughout her life and career, and credits her for her own ability to successfully juggle multiple priorities. 

“She was one of only a few women in her medical school class and only recently retired from her 48 years in practice,” says Fern. “She was truly gifted at achieving work-life balance, and she taught me that it was possible to have a challenging career while raising a family.”

With the theme of International Women’s Day 2022 being ‘Break the Bias’, Fern stresses the importance of celebrating diversity. 

“We should see everybody for who they are, and not define anyone by their gender, race, education, sexuality or politics. Diversity brings strength,” says Fern. 

She also has some inspiring words for women who are just starting out in their careers. 

“Persevere. Write your own story and live it. Don’t let the expectations or criticisms of others have a negative influence on you,” she encourages. 

Fern, who is now 20 years into her career, says she’s never bored and looks forward to the challenge each new day brings. 

Tell us the first thing that comes to mind in just a couple of words:

Give us a snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that brings you great joy?
Mountain tops, sunshine, powder, family and friends.

What is the one thing you’re grateful for right now?
Living at the edge of the forest.

When you’re taking time to care for yourself, what are you doing?
Cross country ski laps with my husky.

Dead or alive, which inspirational woman would you like to have dinner with?
Jessica Houssian, CEO of the Equality Fund, which combines gender-lens investing, bold government funding and powerful multi-sector philanthropy to unlock new capital for feminist movements globally.

What book or show would you recommend to your friends?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

This year's theme and pose for International Women's Day is Break the Bias. Posing with arms crossed in solidarity shows commitment to challenge inequality, call out gender bias, question stereotypes and help forge an inclusive world.

SOURCE: Women of VCH: Dr. Fern von der Porten, Emergency Physician ( )
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