Skip to content

How a trailblazing female doctor is working to improve Canadian healthcare

Women’s College Hospital is all about closing gaps in healthcare. In fact, its very beginnings came from the desire and the need to close gaps in the system when it came to women.


By Marie Moore



When Dr. Emily Stowe opened her private medical practice in Toronto in 1867, she was the first female doctor in the country to do so. Having been denied admission to medical education in Toronto because of her gender, she earned her degree in New York City.  It’s fitting, then, that she would go on to spearhead the creation of Woman’s Medical College, a Toronto-based medical school for women that opened in 1883. The aim was not only to give women the right to study and practice medicine in Canada, but also to improve the delivery of women’s healthcare in the country.


Dr. Stowe’s legacy lives on today. The Woman’s Medical College she fought for evolved into Women’s College Hospital, which has carried on her trailblazing spirit and her dedication to closing the gaps in women’s health.


“Inequity of access for women and other groups is one of the healthcare systems greatest gaps.”


This spirit and determination is very much alive within Dr. Danielle Martin, a practicing family physician and Vice President, Medical Affairs and Health System Solutions at Women’s College Hospital. “As a family doctor, I see the cracks and challenges in our health care system every day, especially for women,” she says. “Inequity of access for women and other groups is one of the healthcare systems greatest gaps.”

Despite the striking biological variations between genders, several drugs and treatments are still in use today that have been tested primarily on men and not designed to meet women’s needs.

“This means we can’t always give women advice about how to improve their health with the same degree of confidence we give to men,” says Dr. Martin. “And that is a gap that needs to be closed.”

Dr. Martin is also a national health policy leader, and, much like Dr. Stowe, she has spent much of her career passionately advocating for improvements to Canada’s public healthcare ― at the system level, as well as at the individual level.


“We can’t always give women advice about how to improve their health with the same degree of confidence we give to men, and that is a gap that needs to be closed.”


Dr. Martin was launched into the public eye after a 2014 presentation to a United States Senate Subcommittee about the Canadian health care system ― a testimony that has now been viewed by nearly 2 million people ― but her interest in and commitment to Canadian healthcare policy began long before that. In 2006, her first year in practice, she helped launch Canadian Doctors for Medicare, a voice for Canadian physicians who believe in “a high quality, equitable, sustainable health system.” She’s also the co- founder, along with Dr. Sacha Bhatia, and a Senior Innovation Fellow at The Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV), which is focused on finding the root causes of inefficiencies in healthcare, and coming up with solutions to create a more effective, sustainable system.

“WIHV works with other healthcare providers and institutions, patients, leaders in government as well as experts with backgrounds in business, engineering  and computer science to make healthcare more convenient, more effective and more affordable,” she explains. “WIHV’s solutions strive to address questions around how to design care that takes into account the social determinants of health, such as a person’s income, housing, social support networks, coping skills and personal health practices, so that the right care is offered at the right time. They help others to navigate health apps to decide which of the tools actually help patients improve their health. These are the gaps we are trying to fill.”

Danielle’s compassion as a family doctor as well as an advocate have guided her policy work and research, which is particularly focused on closing the health gaps that vulnerable Canadians face. She outlined her recommendations for bettering our Canadian system in her first book, Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians. Published this January, it’s a platform to engage Canadians in a national conversation about achievable change. From a national pharmacare program dedicated to ensuring that all Canadians can access necessary medications, to a basic income to protect the health of low-income citizens.  

“For almost any Canadian in our health care system, it’s clear that there are aspects that need to be reorganized. With an aging population and the rise of chronic disease on the horizon, we need to reorganize services to keep people out of hospital, out of the emergency department, and better supported in their homes. This should not always require more money – we can do much better with the resources we have. Developing systems to support spread and scale, rather than just supporting one-off innovative programs is critical. And I truly believe this is where we are headed to heal healthcare and I am extremely proud of the role Women’s College is playing to make this happen.”




For more than 100 years Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare, and working to close the health gap that exists because women’s unique needs are not taken into consideration. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading, academic ambulatory hospital. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs.


For more information about how WCH and WIHV are transforming patient care, visit and To find out how you can give and get involved, visit