Dr. Gerri Frager Chapeau levé!

Dr. Gerri Frager
Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal
novembre 07, 2012

The IWK Health Centre's Pediatric Palliative Care Service is proud to announce that our own Dr. Gerri Frager is a recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal! This award acknowledges the significant contributions and achievements that Gerri has made in our community - at the IWK, in Halifax, throughout Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, and indeed, around the world! Gerri will receive her award later this fall.

Please read an excerpt from Gerri's nomination letter, written by Dr. Pam Mosher, which highlights some of the amazing work Gerri has done, and what an inspiring person she is:

Dr. Gerri Frager is one of Nova Scotia’s (and Canada’s) unsung heroes. She is the founding medical director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Service at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, and a truly wonderful human being. In her professional capacity over the past 18 years, she has served as the steady and humble guide and caregiver for hundreds of Maritime children and families who have had to navigate life with profoundly complex and overwhelming medical illness. She has stood by as compassionate physician, gentle colleague, committed teacher/educator, wise counselor, and true friend to the children and families as she dedicates herself time and time again to alleviating both the physical and emotional suffering during the lives, and deaths, of all her pediatric patients.

There are few people who can handle witnessing the death of a single child or adolescent—this is, to many, one of the most unfathomable and unjust of human experiences. Dr. Frager has remained a steadfast witness, companion, and warrior for the hundreds of children who have died in our province (and has also regularly served the children of PEI and NB via IWK’s scope of care) over the past two decades. As such, her heart is huge, and her figurative shoulders broad. A nurse who worked with Dr. Frager in the early days building the pediatric palliative care program at IWK describes her this way: "Gerri would move heaven and earth to get kids home surrounded by family and friends if that was where they wished to be in their last weeks, days, or even hours. And along the way she made sure they had everything they needed to be able to enjoy the time they had and to be free of pain and other symptoms. In addition to many home visits, she even spent the night with a patient when we could not find nursing staff to be there. She is always a voice to ensure children are not forgotten – whether they were the patient or a family member of someone who was dying."

Dr. Frager began her career as a nurse who then became a physician, and in both fields she repeatedly noticed a huge gap in care for children at the end of life. She witnessed the great distress this caused to patients, families and staff, and the difference it could make to ensure children’s comfort by reducing their suffering and providing support for caregivers. Recognizing that nobody seemed to possess comprehensive knowledge in this area of pediatrics at the time, and inspired by her patients to develop such expertise, she devoted 3 years after her residency and initial job in rural Newfoundland to obtain specialized training with experts in adult palliative medicine in Canada, pediatric palliative care pioneers in the U.K., and pediatric pain and oncology experts in the U.S. to build an unparalleled skill set to care for dying children in Nova Scotia.

Dr. Frager was thus the first person to take up the mantle of pediatric palliative care for children in the Maritimes, and the program at IWK is one of the oldest in North America. She was instrumental in bringing together the fledgling programs in Canada in 2000 to share ideas, and this laid the foundation for the Canadian Network of Palliative Care for Children. She is known as one of the senior and stalwart voices in the field, a true guru, and one who has legitimately developed the profession in the West. She has extended herself above and beyond the call of duty—consistently supporting adult palliative care providers in the province who were overwhelmed caring for children, making herself available day or night by phone to provide advice, and traveling to rural areas to ensure a child being sent home to die had adequate resources and support. She has been a leader in education—Dr. Frager has taught and supported countless nurses, physicians, medical students and pediatric residents, social workers, administrative staff, and ancillary staff (at the IWK and around the country/world), in the challenging work of caring for severely ill and dying children—before, during and after a child’s death. At the local, national, and international levels, she has quietly yet diligently worked (via published writings, lectures and conference presentations/workshops) to further the cause of pediatric palliative care as a discipline, and teach the unique skills of the field to others so that children around the country and world could benefit from her expertise as a pediatric palliative care specialist. Physicians and nurses from across Canada and the U.S. seeking to train in the field travel far and wide to work with her because her rare knowledge, kindness, and skills are truly beyond compare in the field. Clinicians certainly depart from time spent under Dr. Frager’s tutelage having increased their own skills, yet moreover they develop deeper admiration for the work she undertakes and promotes, and true gratitude for this unassuming, generous and gifted woman. Above all, Dr. Frager is humble—people at IWK are even unaware of how well-regarded she is in the field of pediatric palliative care internationally. Dr. Frager’s humility is inspiring; yet as she never draws attention to herself or her work, she has not received the recognition from her own province and country that she so highly deserves!

Dr. Frager is famous for her robust sense of humor, her calm energy and support in the midst of distress and crisis, and the regular gestures of human kindness she shows to children, families and staff (she frequently brings in small bouquets of flowers from her garden for the nurses and patients, or treats of food, or poems she has written for patients or staff). Perhaps most impressively, despite years of this arduous and taxing work, her humanity and kindness have not been eroded, but instead have deepened and she has become a significant voice for integrating the arts and humanities in medicine as Director of the Humanities-HEALS program at Dalhousie University.

Overall, we can think of no one more deserving of a QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal.

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