“I wanted to be a doctor since grade 1 at Immanuel Christian School in Scarborough (Ont.),” said Laurie Hiemstra, now 53. “I remember telling my teacher I was going to be a doctor.” Hiemstra eventually became an orthopedic surgeon and in June 2022, began serving as president of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association, the 77th person and first woman to have that role.
The association’s mission is to unite the Canadian orthopedic community through advocacy, education, research and practice standards. There are 1,760 orthopedic surgeons in Canada—13.6% of them are women and 80% are members of the association. “I am very proud to be the first female president of the COA although somewhat embarrassed for the profession that it has taken 77 years for this to occur,” said Hiemstra. “It is my hope that this is an icebreaker for more women to seek out and be accepted into leadership roles. I think it signals a change in thinking and hopefully brings about a culture change that is long overdue in medicine and especially in the surgical specialties.” Being president is a one-year term that requires four total years of service: one as second president-elect, one as president-elect, the year as president, and a year as past-president.
After graduating from Calvin College (now University) in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science with honors, Hiemstra obtained her M.D. from Memorial University in Newfoundland, then completed training, including a Ph.D. in neuromuscular physiology, to practice as an orthopedic surgeon. Hiemstra played softball at Calvin and also on the Canadian National Team. She said her desire to do orthopedics, and specifically sports medicine, likely stems from that athletic involvement.
Hiemstra appreciates the opportunity to broaden her impact in this mid-stage of her career. “I have discovered a great satisfaction in trying to make a difference on a national and international scale that goes beyond the satisfaction of helping individual patients,” she said. The leadership role also has its challenges, she said, among them balancing her career with the needs of her family, three sons aged 15 and almost 14-year-old twins.
Hiemstra grew up in Grace Christian Reformed Church in Scarborough. When she lived in Winnipeg, Man., and Calgary, Alta., she was a member of the CRC, most recently at Calgary’s Hillside Community Church. “I still attend there when I’m in Calgary, and my kids were baptized there,” she said. Since Hiemstra practices in Banff, Alta., where there is no CRC, she worships at a local Baptist church.