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Dr. M. Elizabeth MacRae BPHE  MD  FRCP(C)  FRCS(C)  Dip. Sports Medicine

Dr. M. Elizabeth MacRae BPHE MD FRCP(C) FRCS(C) Dip. Sports Medicine

A brief sojourn in hospital at age 3 and teenage reading about Dr. Norman Bethune and Dr. Wilder Penfield implanted a vision of becoming a surgeon. Dr MacRae received a degree in Physical and Health Education from University of Toronto in I964, and was awarded the Margaret Eaton scholarship for the woman student standing first as well as the outstanding athlete award.

When an application was then placed to the faculty of Medicine at University  of Toronto she was surprised to hear her father say “ I don’t support this as you will be taking a job away from a man and a man has to support a wife and family”. Nevertheless Dr. MacRae obtained her  M.D. in 1968 followed by a year of rotating internship. Surgery was not considered to be a good career for a woman. Unsure of what specialty to pursue she did a year each of research in cell turnover in the Pituitary Gland and Internal Medicine. She then spent 2 years doing medical care at a psychiatric hospital. The discovery of Neurologic problems in psychiatric patients rekindled her interest in Neurologic Disease.

An application was placed to University of Toronto Neurology Programme and in the fall of 1977 and Dr. MacRae obtained her F.R.C.P.C, Neurology. During her last year of Neurology training Dr. MacRae did a 3 month elective in Neurosurgery under Dr. Tom Morley. Two months later the chief resident in Neurosurgery called and asked her to help clip an aneurysm. The aneurysm ruptured, but all turned out well. She walked out of the O.R. and said “ I am doing the wrong thing”. She then asked to be allowed to enter the Neurosurgical programme after her neurology fellowship exams were completed in the fall of 1977. Her request was met with opposition, “you are too old, you have a checkerboard career, and besides you are female and we haven’t trained a female before”. With the help of Dr. Tom Morley she was accepted in the programme, and an F.R.C.S.(C) Neurosurgery, was obtained in the fall of 1981. Dr. MacRae is the first female neurosurgeon to do all her training, then devote her whole career to the practice of neurosurgery in Canada.

In 1982 she moved to Calgary to join Dr. Terry Myles in private practice at Foothills Hospital and was appointed Clinical Assistant Professor in the newly developed Department of Neurological Sciences. The first few years she operated on all types of cases then developed an interest in Pituitary surgery and Skull Base Surgery. In 1989 she attended the first North American Skull Base Society meeting in Los Angeles, then many meeting and courses thereafter. Dr. MacRae and Dr. Phil Park (Edmonton trained E.N.T.) started a Skull Base clinic, with collaboration with the endocrinologists and Dr. William Fletcher a neuro-ophthalmologist. They enjoyed a very busy clinical practice. Despite her busy schedule, Dr. MacRae obtained a diploma in Sports medicine in 1997 and participated as a member of the Canadian Alpine Medical Team and had the opportunity to travel to world cup events in Sweden, Austria, France, Switzerland, and Lake Louise.

She has been involved in Undergraduate, Post Graduate and Continuing Medical education, and served on numerous committees; patient care committee, I.C.U. and respiratory care committee, clerkship committee, and was director of the Neuroscience critical care unit in the 1980’s. For 8 years she was on the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada exam committee of “Principles of Surgery” and 5 years on the neurosurgery exam committee. Dr. MacRae served as Vice President of the Western Neurosurgical Society of Western United States and Canada. She has been on the Concussion Committee, Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine and served on the Performance Committee for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

Dr. MacRae has been honoured with numerous awards for clinical work, teaching, and service; Woman of Vision, Calgary Herald and Channel 7; nomination for Woman of Distinction, Y.M.C.A.; Distinguished Service Award, Faculty of Medicine Dept. of Surgery; Clinician of the Year, medical staff, Foothills Hospital; teaching award Neurosurgical residents; Mentor of the year region 1, Royal College of Physicians and surgeons of Canada; Medal for distinguished Service, Alberta Medical Association; May Cohen Award for women mentors, Canadian Medical Association; and an acknowledgement for voluntary service and leadership in Neurosurgery by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

In spite of these awards the biggest rewards have been seeing the residents progress through their training and emerging as fully competent, skillful, and caring neurosurgeons, then following their careers; and the many thank you notes from patients for whom she have tried to provide the best care she could. As much as she has enjoyed the practice and teaching of neurosurgery, Dr. Macrae has happily transitioned into retirement. She is travelling extensively, golfing, skiing and hiking with her husband. She has also developed a passion for Wildlife photography which has taken her to Antartica, South Georgia, Falkland Islands, Africa,  and Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.

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