Calgary doctor honoured for creating women’s health care clinic staffed by female physicians


When Dr. Rupinder Toor was a student in medical school, she asked her mother a simple health question.

And it was her mother’s answer that inspired Toor to open the Northeast Calgary Women’s Clinic a little more than 10 years ago.

“We were learning about cervical cancer so I went home and asked my mom, ‘Have you had your pap smear done?’ She said, ‘Yes, I have,’ and I said, ‘OK, when was it done?’ She said, ‘Well, when your brother was born,'” Toor told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Toor’s brother was close to 20 years old at the time.

And the reason her mother hadn’t received what should be an annual exam surprised Toor.

“She said, ‘I have a male doctor, surely I’m not going to go see him about that sort of thing,'” said Toor. “In her story, I think it exemplified just a few barriers she was experiencing from having something as simple as a pap smear done.”

Toor then began talking to other female relatives, who relayed similar stories of not going for annual checkups because they had a male doctor.

And the seed for the Northeast Calgary Women’s Clinic was sown.

Opened in October 2007 and staffed by female doctors, the clinic’s mission is to provide “primary women’s health care to women who experience gender, language and/or cultural barriers to women’s health care, or those without a family physician.”

“It was sort of thinking, if we were to open a clinic that had all female doctors who maybe spoke a few different languages, then would women come to have these sorts of things looked after,” she said.

“When we first opened … we were surprised, the needs were greater than anticipated.”

This week, Toor was recognized for her contribution to the city, receiving a Calgary Board of Education Legacy Award, recognizing former CBE students who make a difference in their community.

The clinic began with four doctors and has since grown to 14. An IUD clinic has also been added and staff speak a number of languages, including English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and French.

“We’ve had the honour to serve 50,000 women in the past 10 years,” said Toor.

“We hear a lot of women saying ‘we’re so glad you’re here, we don’t know where we would have gone.'”

The clinic has helped women overcome cultural barriers as well.

“We really feel like we’re a bridge. So we bring women in and help them learn system literacy about health care in Canada and how that works with things like screening, because often times they come from countries where screening isn’t really done. You only go to the doctor when you’re really sick,” she said.

“But the other part of that cultural training has been looking at the health care system and helping it adapt and … setting up services that are going to be taken up by all segments of the population.”

The addition of the IUD clinic is something Toor said she is especially proud of as it offers a much-needed service, for more reasons than one might think.

“The No. 1 reason women don’t complete education, whether it’s in Canada or outside Canada, is usually unplanned pregnancy,” she said.

“So what we’re really working on are initiatives that are birth control, that are beyond the birth control pill. Many people don’t realize birth control was illegal up until 1969 in Canada. It was illegal to talk about it, to dispense it, so we actually haven’t been doing it very long.”