Faculty Spotlight – Raphaële Charest-Morin


Orthopaedic Spine Surgery

Vancouver – Vancouver General Hospital

Can you share a little bit about your educational background and journey, and how you got to where you are today? What inspired you to work in orthopaedics, specifically spine surgery?

I was born and raised in Québec city. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to pursue a career in medicine. I have also been passionate about travelling – this passion was passed on to me from my parents who used to tell bedtime stories about all the amazing adventures they went on before having a family. I entered medical school at Laval University in 2004. As an option, we could pursue an international rotation. I jumped on the opportunity to combine my passion for travel and medicine. As a result, my husband and I explored South America for 8 months. During this period, we spent 3 months in Ricardo Palma, Peru working in a small health care centre. My role was to assist patients infected with tuberculosis. We also went to Sepahua, a remote village in the Amazon, only accessible by plane or boat. Working in a small dispensary showed me how important sanitary measures are in health care. Pursuing opportunities in international medicine was an eye-opening experience for me, and is something I would recommend to everyone. 

Inspiring people are the ones who shape your decisions, and I was lucky to have inspiring mentors early on in my career. In medical school, I participated in a musculoskeletal oncology class and I thought that the topic was fascinating. I reached out to the teacher, Dr. Norbert Dion, who was an orthopaedic oncologist in Québec City. He welcomed my passion and invited me to join him in the operating room. On my very first day in the operating room, I immediately fell in love with orthopaedic surgery. Being able to directly impact the lives of patients through a procedure was a revelation to me.

I decided to explore the many specialties of orthopaedic surgery. Because the University Laval orthopaedic community was very receptive to my enthusiasm and really supported me, it was a logical choice to apply for orthopaedic residency at Laval University. Initially, I intended to pursue an orthopaedic oncology specialty but was exposed early on to spine. Spine surgery covers a wide spectrum of pathologies and, to me, is an art.

With a focus on spinal oncology, I completed a fellowship at Vancouver General Hospital. Here, I gained experience in spine surgery but also met a new mentor, Dr. Charles Fisher. After completing my fellowship program, I began practicing in Quebec City at l’Hopital l’Enfant Jésus where I worked for three years. In 2018, an opportunity to join the Vancouver General Hospital Spine team opened and I was happy to return to Vancouver. For the last three years, I have been part of this amazing group and have focused primarily on spinal oncology, while also developing my expertise in several areas of research.

What impact would you like to see your work have on patients, communities and society at large?

Though I enjoy treating all spinal pathologies, spinal oncology has a special place in my heart. Patients presenting with spinal primary bone tumor or spinal metastasis are facing life changing events, and I seek to support and treat them to the best of my abilities. I hope I will leave a positive mark on all of the patients I treat.

I also hope to influence change and leave a positive mark on patients via my research endeavours. Because spine surgeons often treat uncommon oncologic diseases, there is limited access to the tissue samples of rare tumours. For the last three years, I have been developing a spinal oncology biobank, and I am proud to announce that we are now operational. My hope is that this biobank will generate meaningful research in the diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance of patients with spinal tumours. With the AOSpine Knowledge Forum tumour network, we are participating in clinical research in spinal oncology. Understanding patient expectations and the drivers of quality of life in this population will certainly translate to better patient care.

What excites you most about your work? What are you most proud of?

I am truly excited about our spinal oncology program. This program was initiated by Dr. Charles Fisher who has been a pioneer in the modern treatment of spinal tumors. The program has a reputation for its clinical care and research activities. The addition of my biobank project will enable us to take our research to a new level. In the coming years, I believe that we will continue to see cutting edge research coming out of our spinal oncology program.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to current trainees?

It’s no secret that pursuing a career in medicine can be hard at times. This career involves long work hours and many responsibilities. That being said, I can’t see myself doing anything else because I am passionate about my work. I truly enjoy working in the operating room, being on call, and completing some of my research work in my off time. My advice is to make sure you are passionate about the specialty you select and think about how you can remain engaged to sustain your passion for years to come.

When you’re not working, where can we find you?

I am the lucky mother of two amazing human beings. Our daughters are five years old and eight years old. They are very energetic, have vivid imaginations, and are a constant source of inspiration. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, travelled a lot, but recently, we have been discovering beautiful British Columbia.

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