FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jessica Simon
March 24, 2015
Let’s have a talk about death and dying. That’s what I was expecting. She talked about ‘a bigger tool box’, and ‘there is something we can do’, and ‘death is about living a good life until the moment of death’.
A pleasant afternoon, getting myself informed about palliative care, a discussion about living. My only wish was for the discussion to have continued, but the busy Doctor had to run to another meeting. Literally.
If someone says, “Quick, call a doctor”, you might ask what kind of doctor? If you call Jessica Simon, you get a lot more than you bargain for – she’s four kinds of doctor. Four jobs, four titles: Division Head, Palliative Medicine, University of Calgary; member of the Palliative Consult Team, Calgary; Scientific Officer and Co-lead, Advanced Care Planning and Goals of Care Alberta; Physician Consultant, Calgary Zone, Alberta Health Services. That’s a lot to put on a business card. Add, wife, mother … more about that later.
In the beginning … Jesica was born in London, UK; mom was a magistrate, dad, an actuary. Baby girl Jessica has two older brothers, was very good in school, attended St. Paul’s Girls School and learned about Calgary watching the ’88 Olympics on TV. She earned a B.Sc. in Neuroscience and got her MD at the University of Edinburgh. She interned in geriatrics and took an exchange job/holiday year in Australia (where she met an engaging Calgarian fellow who was driving a tour bus). That relationship led to discussion of ‘London or Calgary’ the following year .. which led Jessica to a Stroke Fellowship at the University of Calgary in 2001. How did she get that Fellowship? Apparently her St. Paul's Girls School credential stood out on her CV ... caught someone's attention. Lucky us!
She told me that her fellowship was in some respects the savior of her relationship because she felt long-distance wasn’t feasible. In her year she learned to dream big. “Calgary is not afraid of change”. As one of the trailing requirements to formally finish her medical degree she needed to do one month in Palliative Care. She “loved it”. “This is new medicine. It looks at the whole person.” She was hooked. On the work. And on Calgary.
What drives you? “Guilt and fear drove me in my 20's. No what drives me is seeing how to grow things --- like kids, palliative care, etc..”
What do you believe has contributed most to your success?
“The good luck to be born to my parents (economic advantage) – the where and when of it. I like to ask questions. Working where change is something people are open to, working with open engaging minds.”
What has held you back?
“I don’t like taking no for an answer.”
I had met Jessica in passing a few months back – introduced by someone else I was meeting at the Foothills Health Campus. Her engaging manner and openness in talking about this important topic - death & dying - most of us would like to avoid knowing much about suggested she was worth pursuing an interview with. She made time. I’m glad of that and happy to pass on my observations of her observations …
Oh, about that tour bus operator whose charms influenced Jessica to choose applying to come to Calgary for that Fellowship? You might know him best as Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party. Jessica and Greg have two daughters. She tells me they don’t talk shop at home … too busy, too tired.
I asked Jessica how she sees her business “palliative care”; I asked her ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?
… lots of time spent explaining the Supreme Court decision, which is a distraction from the work. Increasing community capacity.
And over the next 5 years?
… palliative care has grown out of cancer care. We’ve not fully addressed it for cancer patients, and have not addressed other populations yet. Equipping our colleagues – helping them better understand our lessons learned to help their patients.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… competent people. Lots of perspectives, somebody who can do it better, listening to better ideas. When spending, I’m happy to be disloyal for a much better price!
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Jessica Simon and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… curse of the competent. Delivering what I say I’ll do.
How would you describe your management style?
… learning one. I like being surrounded by competent people. I’m learning!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… nothing keeps me awake – I work too hard! What worries me during the day is the recent Supreme Court ruling on assisted dying. Cautions for physicians and families are huge … and hard to explain. A physician’s job is to help you live …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… family, aren’t afraid to speak their minds – getting along (Jewish atheist left wing culture); Martin Labrie, a palliative care doc I met during my ‘one month’ …
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… work/life balance is a fallacy. All facets need attention. Can’t do it all at the same time!
… hanging out with my three children (two daughters and my husband).
What do you read?
… book club books. I love to read fiction. Currently, “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
… Toyota Highlander Hybrid …. I’m a guilty tree-hugger who car-pools with kids …
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