Dr. Justin McGinnis’ education and training have taken him across the country and back. Of Métis heritage and originally from a small town in Manitoba, Dr. McGinnis grew up in rural Alberta. He then went on to complete his undergrad and medical school at the University of Alberta, residency training in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the University of British Columbia, subspecialty fellowship training in Gynaecologic Oncology at McMaster University, and a Master of Science in Quality Improvement & Patient Safety at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation. 

Dr. McGinnis now resides in Vancouver, having taken a position in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of British Columbia. He is humbled to be a part of GCI and to be part of a research vision built upon a multidisciplinary group of scientists, nurses, patient partners, and more.  

Q: How did you become interested in this field? 

A: After high school I was always a bit uncertain about what I wanted to do, but I loved biology and the human body. I did my undergrad in sciences, focusing on physiology. Most people become physicians or PhD researchers from physiology, and I was interested in working with people, so I thought I would enjoy being a clinician. I went to medical school, and the way I got into OBGYN, in fact, was one of my first experiences in the operating room with a Gyne-Oncology surgeon named Valerie Capstick. She invited me to shadow her as she operated on a woman with a pelvic mass, which turned out to be ovarian cancer. This early mentorship sparked my interest and from there on out, I thought I was going to be a Gyne-Oncologist. I was particularly interested in doing research, which is a significant focus of UBC and thus did by residency training there. My interest in Gyne-Oncology had been reinforced throughout my training here in Vancouver, and thus I’ve continued to pursue it. 

Q: Is there something in particular that keeps you interested in this field? 

A: I think in any field in oncology, you have to have good people skills and be able to help people navigate cancer diagnoses and treatment.  I found that I could connect with patients well, which made me well-suited for the oncology field. I find it so rewarding to help patients through challenging times, giving me vigour for the field. Aside from that, my practice is mostly surgical, and I enjoy being in the operating room, where I get to focus on interesting anatomy, tactile learning, and procedural teaching.  

Q: What inspires your work? 

A: I have been inspired by the amazing group of people who have helped train me throughout my 13 years of post-secondary education. It’s been amazing to work with people who so effortlessly manage their busy schedules and can still dedicate time to mentorship for the next generation of physicians and surgeons. That gives me energy every day to know that we are training some of the brightest in Canada and the world, and to be able to play a part is something I enjoy and gives me great satisfaction.  

Q: Do you have any hopes or insights into the changes that have happened in the field? 

A: Things are constantly changing, and I think there has been such a tremendous amount of research coming out of BC and Canada that we should be proud of. For instance, some of the greatest advancements for ovarian cancer, like using targeted chemotherapies, and a considerable volume of work on cancer genomics and patient quality of life, are all happening right here in Vancouver. When I meet patients for the first time, I am excited to share that we have so many impactful changes to care and new drugs becoming available that I am hopeful for better outcomes for our patients.  

Q: Has Covid-19 impacted your work? 

A: I would say yes, I think it’s impacted all of us. Of course, we are moving our patients encounters to virtual, which is not the most effective substitute for assessment and connecting with them. Not to mention doing physical exams. But I think we can safely choose which patients to see virtually, and I think that will be something that stays for good. This is beneficial for patients as we have a centralized model of care, in that the majority of patients in BC and the Yukon come to Vancouver for Gyne-Oncology surgeries. Being able to offer patients virtual assessments to provide some information and initiate face-to-face communication relieves some anxiety for those with a cancer diagnosis but have not yet met their specialist. 

In terms of my own research in quality improvement and patient safety, I had been studying several things, including pneumonia and influenza vaccination. My interest in this started before Covid-19, but the pandemic has helped put vaccination at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I’ve seen a big mind-shift in people who hadn’t previously received routine vaccination now showing interest, as they want to limit unnecessary contact points with the healthcare system by preventing illness and are now more open to discussing vaccination. 

Q: Do you have any specific goals for your career or research? 

A: I have always been really interested in quality improvement research, and particularly in oncology, research is often focused on new treatments that can improve overall survival and decrease the risk of cancer recurrence. While this is clearly important, I think there is a huge unmet need to focus on healthcare quality which could be quality of life improvement issues, systems issues, or others. Asking questions like ‘how do we deliver treatments more efficiently?’” in my mind can be just as important as what the treatments are themselves. 

My goal is to focus on these other aspects of oncology care, and there’s a lot of opportunity for that in BC because we have a centralized provincial model. We are able to collaborate with a vast multidisciplinary team in various cancer centres. One of my goals is to continue focusing on quality measures for patients and systems issues to help with care delivery. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting in the field? 

A: Be persistent with the training. It’s been a long road to get here, but one of the things I was so fortunate to do was travel around to various centres, having done medical school, residency, masters, and a fellowship all at different universities. This has allowed me to interact with a large breadth of people, to learn different approaches and techniques from an array of specialists, and to get different perspectives on how care can be delivered. Always challenge yourself to seek out new opportunities and experiences because there is so much to gain.