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Dr. Laura Sauvé on being genuinely engaged, what has surprised her during COVID-19 and receiving a prestigious award

When Dr. Laura Sauvé was asked to support Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC), the work was expected to take about one day a week. Little did she know her role would evolve to so much more.
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When the pandemic first broke out earlier last year, Sauvé was putting in ​60+ hours a week on IPAC measures at BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre.

“As an infectious diseases specialist, part of our job is watching for new and emerging diseases as well as pandemics, but that being said, there’s lots of things I didn’t really expect,” says the medical co-lead for IPAC at BC Children’s and BC Women’s, along with Dr. Jocelyn Srigley. 

Skirting surprises and pulling together

 “What’s being called the ‘infodemic’ – the fact that there is so much information and a lot of misinformation – isn’t something I expected. And I didn’t think there’d be anti-mask rallies. I had no idea the politics of mask use would take up so much of my time and energy.”

Sauvé is now spending half her time doing IPAC and half on clinical work. She’s thankful for those who stepped up to help when the IPAC work took over.

“I work with a bunch of different teams and I think the support that they have given me, allows me to focus and has been extraordinary. For example, the other physicians in Pediatric Infectious Diseases basically just took on all of my clinical work from March until June without a complaint. 

“Equally, at Oak Tree Clinic, my colleagues took on my clinical work and that was a big thing. The success is because everybody pulled together and worked on it together.”

A national award for valuable work

In October, the Pediatric Chairs of Canada (PCC) presented Sauvé with a 2020 PCC COVID Leadership Award. The PCC represent the Departments of Pediatrics within the seventeen Canadian medical schools. They recognized Sauvé for her work in IPAC and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Clinical Reference Group, which leads all of the clinical COVID-19 guideline development for BC. 

“I think it’s important to note that this is not work that I have done by myself. It is work that my team has done,” says Sauvé. “I’m very flattered, though, that they valued the work enough to think it merited a national award.”

Sauvé says, before the pandemic, pediatricians hadn’t been as involved with IPAC work so strengthening those lines of communication has been important during this health crisis.

“We’ve really put an emphasis on being inclusive and keeping everybody informed. We put a lot of effort into making sure there were easily accessible and evidence-based clinical guidelines,” she says.

What she learned in Burkina Faso and applied to the pandemic

Sauvé has always been interested in the health of children around the world. At the beginning of her career, Sauvé spent a year working in Burkina Faso, West Africa after she completed her Master’s of Public Health. She worked on providing HIV treatment for children through the Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative. 

“Working in that setting was really important to me,” says Sauvé. “Here in Canada, we have a couple hundred children living with HIV and they basically have access to treatment from the day they are born. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are millions of children living with HIV and less than half have access to treatment. We know that those children will die if they don’t have treatment.”

She says she learned important lessons during the time she spent in Africa which have helped her in this pandemic.

“I think what I learned is an understanding of respectful and genuine stakeholder engagement,” says Sauvé. “It’s all about the teamwork. I’ve seen how engagement that wasn’t respectful or genuine has gone wrong. I think there’s always missteps or times when you think ‘I could have done that better’ but I learned how important it is to want to do your best and do it right.”

Tributes from the top

Those who work with Sauvé appreciate her dedication.

 “What I saw working with Dr. Sauvé during through the initial phase of our COVID response, and continue to see now, is her sincere desire to help our teams to understand the evidence related to COVID and her incredible efforts to help create policies that reflect the best evidence,” says Dr. Jana Davidson, the chief medical officer for BC Children’s and BC Women’s. “This was incredibly difficult at times. She is consummately professional, always collaborative and a tireless supporter of her colleagues and our hospitals. Laura is a quiet, humble leader with great inner strength, integrity and an open mind, which she brings to our team every day.”

Sauvé is also Chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) Infectious Diseases Committee. At a national level, she leads the development of pediatric infectious diseases guidelines, and contributes to the CPS’s advocacy work.

“Dr. Laura Sauvé has played a pivotal role on PHSA’s IPAC team throughout the pandemic,” said Kendra McPherson, vice president of transformation & sustainability and interim vice president of quality, safety and outcome improvement. “Her integrity, her ability to juggle an immense workload with commitment and professionalism and, most of all, her dedication to the wellbeing and safety of patients and staff alike are assets to our organization and to the health sector as a whole. I’m thrilled to hear that her efforts are being recognized with this prestigious award.” 

“Watching a global pandemic unfold from the frontlines of a children’s hospital is not something you can ever really anticipate in your career. Dr. Laura Sauvé has helped to calmly guide us through the complexities of pediatric care and infectious diseases and really led the charge on making sure we had clear, collaboratively-developed and evidence-based guidance so we could navigate these challenging times,” said Susan Wannamaker, executive vice president, clinical service delivery. “I extend my sincere gratitude to Dr. Sauvé and I congratulate her on achieving this well-deserved PCC COVID Leadership Award.” 

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