Marjorie Dixon knew from a young age that she wanted to get into reproductive medicine. It was her experience running a cycle monitoring centre — and going through three rounds of IVF herself — that led her to open her own holistic clinic, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health. A recent winner of the RBC Momentum Award, her business has been growing rapidly, and redefining caregiving in the fertility space.
By Karen van Kampen
In grade 10, sitting in the library of her Montreal high school, Dr. Marjorie Dixon stumbled upon an article that would change her life. It was a story celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization. A story of hope, possibility, and the future of reproductive medicine. “I thought, this is me. This is my life,” says Marjorie. “Still to this day, when I think about what I do, I’m astonished.”
Marjorie’s career is its own story of inspiration. She has made it her mission to offer equal access to fertility care, regardless of a person’s orientation, identity, geography or socioeconomic status. Her company, Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health, uses the most advanced technology and a holistic approach to patient care. She has created a Canadian business with a global reach — with patients as far as Japan, Australia and Qatar — and an impressive track record of growth.
Her success has not gone unnoticed. As owner and founder, Marjorie was the winner of the 2018 RBC Momentum Award, granted to an entrepreneur who has delivered 10% or more year-over-year growth for at least three years while creating a flexible, responsive business that adapts to a changing market.
While Marjorie didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, she says she always wanted to be a reproductive specialist. As a little girl, Marjorie spent countless hours in her dad’s laboratory where he taught high school reproductive biology. “I’m an obsessive learner,” she says. “I love to learn.”
After graduating from McGill University’s School of Medicine, Marjorie did postgraduate training in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. She then pursued a subspecialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Vermont. During a gynecology internship at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Marjorie earned the nickname Gyne Spice for singing in the operating room.
As a fertility specialist at Sunnybrook (where she is still an active member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology), Marjorie is known for belting out the tunes including Queen, Air Supply and Stevie Nicks. Marjorie also takes song requests from patients and has their favourite music playing when they wake up from anesthesia. And she gives women “fertility lucky socks” so their feet don’t get cold in the stirrups. One sock reads “hope trust” while the other reads “baby dust.”
Her thoughtful, patient-centric approach can partially be attributed to being a patient herself. After undergoing IVF three times, Marjorie knows first-hand how stressful the fertility journey can be. Her experience running a cycle monitoring centre also highlighted how the medical system was disjointed, with patients having to travel to a variety of fertility sites for different services. “Continuity of care is a critical thing,” says Marjorie, “particularly when you’re dealing with women’s health.”
“When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”
It was the start of her entrepreneurial journey. Marjorie envisioned patient-focused fertility care under one roof, delivered by the same team of care providers to create a calm, comforting environment, “because the journey of fertility can be disarming on the best of days and disenfranchising overall,” she says.
Marjorie was also determined to be a culturally conscious and sensitive provider so that everyone could identify with their caregivers. “The fertility journey is the ultimate equalizer,” she says. “If you look in our waiting room, we have people from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and they sit together with one thing in common: they just want a legacy of their own. A family of their own.”
In 2016, she opened Anova. Launching with nine staff, Marjorie had to learn how to manage her own practice. She hired an operations manager, set up an electronic medical records system and continuously set new goals and created new strategies to keep moving forward. Most importantly, she kept her thoughtful approach; for example, Marjorie gives each of her “baby graduates” a onesie that reads, “I’m so cool I used to be frozen. Made with a lotta love and a little science.”
She also relied on a solid business plan. “You can’t pull it out of the sky and say, I think this should work,” she says. Anova Fertility now has more than 80 employees, offering a range of services that include cycle monitoring, IVF, and diagnosis of menstrual disorders. There is also the Anova Integrative Wellness group of naturopathic doctors, massage therapists and acupuncturists.
The road to success “hasn’t been this Pollyanna-esque perfect path,” says Marjorie. To succeed, you need grit and determination — which she certainly has. (When Marjorie was a kid, her dad used to say, “If you want to get Marjorie to do something, tell her she can’t.”) And you need to recognize the demands of an entrepreneurial life, she adds. “You can’t have it all, but you can definitely design life the way you see best for you,” says Marjorie. “You can have a family and work and follow your passion and do great things. You just have to make a path. Nothing happens by accident.”
It’s also important to ignore the “propaganda,” warns Marjorie. “Your competitors will propagandize and deprogram some of your novel thoughts, and discourage as opposed to mentor and build you,” she says. “When you find your solid group of peeps, lean on them hard and use them. People say it takes a village. It totally takes a village.”
For Marjorie, it’s incredible to think that before she opened the doors to Anova Fertility, “there were no babies growing on the sixth floor at Yonge and Shepherd,” she says. “Now every day in their sweet way, little cells are dividing into people. It’s fantastic. It really is.”