MedNet

One-on-One with Roanne Preston

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When Dr. Roanne Preston first visited UBC campus as a recent high school graduate she was floored by the beauty of the campus. 

Following years of studying and working as an obstetric anesthesiologist in Ottawa, she moved to B.C. in 2004 to join the UBC Faculty of Medicine. Now in her second term as the Department Head of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Dr. Preston, leads her department in striving for excellence in education across a broad spectrum of learners, innovation in research, and leadership in patient safety in B.C.

She is also a member of the Provincial Surgical Executive Committee, the College’s Non-hospital Medical Surgical Facilities Accreditation Program, and is Interim Head of BC Women’s Department of Anesthesia.


Who inspires you and why?

People who have passion and a goal, and despite obstacles they invigorate others to achieve that goal. It can be hard to effect change in medicine, so I really admire those who manage to. My mentor Joanne Douglas, who is now an emeritus professor in obstetric anesthesia, is remarkable. She always managed to engage others and bring them along with her. She received the Order of Canada for helping make childbirth safer for women and newborns.

For you, what makes UBC different?

The distributed medical program that allows us to reach the whole province. While that has challenges, our vision of transforming health for everyone in B.C. offers us at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine the opportunity to impact health, human resources and continuing medical education for all health care professionals. That really makes us unique. Also, the absolutely outstanding beauty of this place!

How do you like to recharge?

I’ve built an amazing oasis in my back garden. I love gardening and I have a water wall and a pond and birds flock to it. I sit with all the sounds of nature. In the rainy weather, sitting on the floor playing with my two crazy Abyssinian cats gives me a lot of pleasure, as does reading non-medical books. My husband and I are also tandem cyclists. We have goals to do a fun and challenging ride each summer.

Best piece of advice

I have three that tie together. I tell junior faculty, ‘You’re going to have a lot asked of you and a lot to decide in your first five years. Start figuring out early what your passion is and what drives you. You need to explore, because you never know what might stand out for you. Second, you will not achieve work-life balance in the first few years of your career. But eventually you have to put that on your list of things to do. And that leads to number three, which is the biggest—you have to learn how to say no. I say that most importantly to women physicians and women researchers because I find they have a hard time doing that. If you’re going to achieve going after your passion and also achieve some degree of work-life balance – something I’m constantly working on – you have to learn how to say no.

First job

Outside of doing paper routes, I was a canoe and swim instructor at a Girl Guide camp. I did that for one year. After that I was a sailing instructor for several summers and I loved it. 

Secret talent

I could probably be a chef. My parents are British so I grew up on what I call ‘traditional British food.’ So I’m not really sure where I got this, but I have an innate ability to open the fridge and put things together with the right herbs and spices. It’s my artistry.

As the Department Head of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, what are some of your goals or aspirations in your current role? 

I’m in my second term and we’re undergoing governance renewal in our department. We are a mix of clinical and basic science so my first goal is to have a department where people feel they have a voice in the important decision making. I also want to create space and opportunity for our trainees – graduate students, residents and medical students – to be together. They’re the ones who develop interesting ideas for new directions, new research, and new education. 

My second goal is to provide clinical faculty rewards for academic contributions. I want to provide some monetary benefit so they feel they can take time out of the operating room and their other anesthesia duties. 

Finally my ’B.H.A.G.,’ (my big, hairy, audacious goal), is to create an endowed chair in pain management - I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. The person I succeeded in this role brought the pain medicine residency program to our department which was a big deal, but we need something else now to guide the whole province collaboratively in pain management, from clinical practice improvement to innovative research and education. I also think this position can help address management of the opioid crisis.

Favourite spot in B.C.

One is a bed and breakfast in the Okanagan called God’s Mountain on the east side of Skaha Lake. It’s the most heavenly place. And my second favourite place is Port Renfrew. We stayed at this great place on the public wharf. It is truly wild there. You can watch the tides come and go, listen to the roar of the ocean and read a book by a fire pit with bald eagles flying above you.