Feature Researcher: Marette Lee, FRCSC, MPH


Marette Lee received her medical degree from the University of Alberta, and completed her Obstetrics & Gynaecology residency at Queen’s University. She did a fellowship in Gynaecologic Oncology with UBC (2009-11) and a Master’s degree in Public Health (2011-2015) from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr Lee was appointed a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2014.

What is your day job?

I work in the Gyne-oncology clinics at VGH and at BC Cancer Agency, and I’m Director of the BC Colposcopy Program, and the rest of my time is spent on research. There are 27 colposcopy clinics across the province affiliated with the Cancer Agency, so the role of Program Director involves training, organizing CME events, quality assurance/quality improvement, liaising with the screening program for their program activities and guidelines, guideline development for the colposcopy program. In addition, I deal with any other issues that come up, such as issues that happen here or at any of the other sites that need some sort of assistance or some connection between the program or the lab, or questions about guidelines. As a clinician I have the opportunity to interact with individual patients, but as a policy maker, you have the opportunity to impact a lot of patients, physicians, and health care providers of all types. I have a really nice balance of seeing patients on an individual level, but also seeing the higher-level view. It can be really challenging to balance those roles, in terms of time and commitments, but I think it can be really valuable because it gives a unique perspective to both sides.


What is your primary research focus?

My research focus is lower genital tract and HPV related diseases. As a collaborator, I’ve been involved in the HPV FOCAL study, a study looking at the HPV vaccine in HIV positive women, and a study looking at post-LEEP testing in BC. I’ve also been involved in the Vulvar Intraepithelielal Neoplasia (VIN) Follow-up Clinic with Leslie Sadownik, looking at women’s psychosocial sexual issues and concerns surrounding having pre-malignant vulvar disease. As a PI, my research include studies looking at outcomes of conservatively managed pre-cancerous cervical lesions in young women, predictors of negative LEEP results with the goal of avoiding over treatment, a pilot study for anal screening study looking at a high-risk group of women with recurrent VIN, and a multi-phase study that looks at women’s anxiety and satisfaction levels related to how they receive colposcopy results.


What drew you to the subject?

My interest in research developed when I was a Fellow and did a retrospective review of women with Stage II endometrial cancer who had been treated with radiation. Even though it was a small study, the results influenced policy at a provincial level. With this study, I experienced first-hand how research could directly impact patient care by being translated into policy. This really motivated me, seeing the results of knowledge translation from research findings .


What do you find are the biggest challenges in pursuing research while being a clinician?

Time, is always the biggest challenge! There are always bigger fires to be put out. Even when I have a non-clinical day, I’m often catching up on clinical work. I’m learning different ways to manage this, but that’s the difficulty. There is often cross over in what I’m doing on any given day- sometimes part of my clinical days are given over to meetings, and there’s always research stuff going on I the background. With research projects the work has to keep moving, and just because I have a clinical week scheduled doesn’t mean that I can put aside the research or vice versa.


How do you manage that balance between your different roles?

Sometimes well, and sometimes not- I’m still learning how to do this! For me, finding the balance depends on the type of activity that I’m doing. I’ve started to block off my calendar to work on writing or a certain project where I need a chunk of uninterrupted time. I block of a half day, or several half days, because you can’t fit this into an hour long time slot.  Also I’m at a stage where there are a lot of opportunities, and I have to start saying no to some of them so that I can keep my focus rather than being pulled in too many directions.


What are the greatest supports for your research?

I definitely would say my colleagues. My clinical colleagues have supported me to allow me to back off on clinical work and do more research. My clinical and research colleagues have given me several opportunities, connected me with lots of people and groups to collaborate with, different people who have influenced me in various ways, and those collaborations have spawned other connections and collaborations. Many of those people have gone on to become collaborators in various capacities, some have become mentors in various capacities, and I’ve really appreciated their support. The Department and the Division have provided some funding recently, but research money continues to be a struggle.


You’ve been successful in obtaining for funding for your research- what advice would you give to others?

I’m still pretty early in the game, so I feel like I don’t have much advice to give! My advice would be to focus and set aside time to get publications out there as much as you can- based on feedback I’ve received this can help make a stronger application. Focus and keep trying. I would also say to look in all kinds of places, because there’s funding opportunities in places that you wouldn’t expect.  Apply for small start-up grants that can give you funding to obtain preliminary results, which can then support an application for larger funding. Get involved in collaborations that will give you some experience, but it’s important to get out on your own as well.


What are your future plans and goals?

My long terms goal is to obtain funding for research and salary award support to develop a program of research in lower genital tract, cervical screening and colposcopy. There is so much potential in the colposcopy and cervical screening. We have a very unique, population-based database that no one else in Canada has, and there are so many questions that could be asked and answered with this data.


What would you like your research to achieve?

My overarching goals are to improve clinical outcomes, avoid over-treatment, improve resources available for clinical treatment, improve communication with patients, improve clinical outcomes and inform policy. As Director of the Colposcopy program, I’ve developed a much greater understand of policy, and see what an important factor it is in providing patient care.


When you aren’t busy being a clinician and a researcher – what do you do?

I’ve been very intentional about keeping my work in work hours when I’m not on call, because it’s very easy to have your work life creep into your personal life if you let it! It’s important for me to spend time with my family- playing with the kids, going on vacation, surfing, hiking and other “outdoors-y” types of things.