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Women of VCH: Dr. Marthe Charles, Medical Microbiologist


It's International Women's Day and we're highlighting just a few of the thousands of incredible women who help us deliver exceptional care at Vancouver Coastal Health. Read about them on the VCH News Stories and see more photos on our VCH Instagram and Facebook.

Ever walked by a hallway in the hospital marked “Restricted Access: Authorized Personnel Only" and wondered what happens behind those closed doors? Well, you might find Dr. Marthe Charles and her team of medical microbiologist and medical laboratory technologists hard at work trying to find clues to help solve the latest infectious diseases.

“My work is similar to a detective or crime scene investigator: we're trying to find the germs that are causing illness in patients in the community or in the hospital," Marthe says.

As a medical microbiologist and division head of the Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention and Control at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), she has been at the forefront of the evolving world of microbiology diagnostic and infection prevention and control, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She has been part of leading clinical research and innovation with her VCH colleagues on studying innovative ways to prevent the spread of infections and viruses, like COVID-19 . Through this research, she's had the opportunity to get outside of the laboratory and hospital environment and into the field.

Most recently, Marthe and her VCH colleagues have teamed up with TransLink, Teck, the University of British Columbia and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR) Canada on a Copper Pilot Project. The ongoing project studies the use of copper as a self-disinfectant agent in the transit system. Phase 1 of the project just concluded, finding that select copper products kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria within one hour – an observation consistent with VCH's in-hospital studies. Phase 2 of the project will begin in spring 2021 and will see an expansion of test sites (busses and SkyTrains) and duration.

Becoming a physician was a childhood dream of Marthe's while growing up in Montreal, as she wanted to be in a position where she could help people every day. After completing her residency in Edmonton, Marthe was offered positions in different parts of the country, but she chose to work at VCH because of the team – being close to the mountains didn't hurt.

Marthe has been influenced by many women mentors and role models who have helped shape her career, namely Dr. Diane Roscoe, former division head of medical microbiology and infection prevention and control at VCH, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer, and Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, former regional director of infection control position at VCH.

“Drs. Roscoe, Henry and Bryce have been great role models and I hope to emulate their leadership style and vision in my role as division head," she says.

Marthe has some important advice for women that are starting in her field.

“It is important to know yourself and know what drives you. When you reach an obstacle you may find insurmountable, always remind yourself why you chose this field. Grounding yourself is an important asset and learning to set your boundaries will help you manage your pace and will give you longevity," she says. “Finding a mentor is also essential and will help you navigate the workplace and help you recognize great opportunities."

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?

Taking a little ferry in False Creek! It feels like I am on vacation.

What is one thing you're grateful for right now?

PaRx – a park prescription for nature. I think it is a great initiative. Spending time outdoors has been soothing during this pandemic.

When you're taking time to rest and recharge, what are you doing?

Watching some documentaries on Netflix or HBO.

Dead or alive, which inspirational women would you like to have dinner with?

I would like to brunch with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, my mom, Dr. Sophia Bethena Jones and Dr. Chika Oriuwa.

What book or show have you really enjoyed during the pandemic?

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

This year's theme and pose for International Women's Day is Choose to Challenge. Posing with a hand held high shows commitment to choose to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes and help forge an inclusive world.

SOURCE: Women of VCH: Dr. Marthe Charles, Medical Microbiologist ( )
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