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Sarah Roth: Changing Lives through Enablement of Impactful Cancer Research

Sarah Roth | President | CEO | BC Cancer Foundation
Sarah Roth | President | CEO | BC Cancer Foundation

It is most certainly exciting to be in a time when the global healthcare industry is undergoing substantial transformation. The evidence is visible in the way healthcare service providers have scaled their approach towards implementing innovative technologies and in the way they deliver services and solutions to patients.

This upscaling of the healthcare industry was driven into motion by exceptional individuals who have passionately dedicated their lives to the healthcare industry. Combining their expertise with the leveraging of critical data, these leaders are ceaselessly catering to the changing patient needs and preferences.

The following interview brings into spotlight, one such individual who has striven to make a positive impact in the world of healthcare – Sarah Roth, President and CEO, BC Cancer Foundation.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Give us a brief overview of your journey in the healthcare sector, and your role at BC Cancer Foundation.

I’ve focused my career in the health and sciences sector, as it’s an area of social impact that I’m deeply passionate about. Our health is vital to our longevity and ability to thrive as individuals and communities. I’ve led large fundraising campaigns in the Unites States during my time with Boston Children’s Hospital and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. My family then relocated to B.C. for both career and lifestyle changes.

During my eight years leading major fundraising campaigns for UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, I saw the breadth and depth of scientific expertise that’s thriving here in Canada. It’s an inspiring space to work in and I get my motivation in seeing the direct impact that donor dollars make in progressing health solutions.

Now, focused on cancer in my role as President and CEO at the BC Cancer Foundation, leading an 80-person team, we have our sights set on rapidly changing outcomes. In my role I am focused on transformation that I believe it vital to the health of our charitable sector.

I’ve led a donor-centric approach to fundraising, pivoting toward a powerful combination of community engagement and deeply personal relationship building. Cancer is personal and it will impact one in two of us, and our donors take their role in advancing research seriously. We act as a conduit to propel meaningful innovation that has a direct impact on patient care.

Tell us more about BC Cancer Foundation, its vision, and the key aspects of its presence in the Canadian healthcare industry.

The BC Cancer Foundation is one of the largest charities in the country. Our vision, shared with our partner at BC Cancer, is a World Free From Cancer and our driving mission is to Change the Outcome. No matter where a patient lives, we are here to drive high-impact research, and expand care, so everyone has the best treatments, closer to home.

Cancer patients in B.C. have some of the best outcomes in the world. This is thanks to our thriving interdisciplinary research teams at BC Cancer who don’t accept the status quo. Our researchers are ranked as some of the top scientific minds in the world and the breakthroughs they make in the labs have direct impacts on the care being delivered across BC Cancer’s six centers.

This is the power of philanthropy.

Donors fuel innovation. They give the leaders at BC Cancer the ability to dream big, to take chances, and we’ve seen tremendous progress thanks to this approach.

From a business leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the healthcare sector?

As a leader in the charitable health sector, we’ve seen many organizations suffer as a result of the pandemic. This has meant that critical resources patients depend on have dried up and in some cases disappeared.

In turn, that’s put tremendous pressure on many support services, particularly in cancer, where there’s been increased demands on counselling, psychiatry and the ability to access care from remote communities.

Our donors stepped in to help mitigate many of these impacts, yet there remains a need to focus on individuals who are facing life-threatening health issues through the pandemic.

I also want to acknowledge the incredible work of the teams at BC Cancer. They responded to the pandemic rapidly, they put safe measures in place from the start so that critical cancer treatment services continued every step of the way. They are our heroes and deserve recognition because through all of this, cancer hasn’t stopped, and neither have they.

What is your opinion on the necessity for healthcare organizations to align their offerings with modern technological developments, especially when it comes to catering to the ever-evolving patient needs and preferences?

I believe many aspects of our health care system were able to rapidly implement new technology due to the pandemic. We see this in cancer care where remote/virtual appointments quickly became the norm, ensuring timely connections between patients and their care teams.

While there will remain an ongoing need for in-person health care, I think a lot of learnings will emerge from the pandemic that provide a clear path forward for the role technology can play in health care delivery.

What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on your organization’s daily operations? What efforts did you take to ensure safety of your employees at the same time?

As the concern and risk related to COVID-19 escalated, we responded immediately, setting our staff up to work remotely. The safety of our staff and donors came first. We ensured everyone could operate within our provincial health guidelines through technology. We also found some fun ways to engage with one another to keep our strong culture thriving.

The major impacts were in our events portfolio where we pivoted our largest fundraising event from a 2,500-person, two day cycling experience, to a virtual challenge.

Our goal is always to be a nimble organization that can not only respond to current environmental demands but can remain ahead of them.

In our experience, donors have responded positively, they continue to engage with us through virtual touch points and they remain as committed as ever to breaking down cancer.

In your opinion, what could be the future of the healthcare services sector post the pandemic? And how are you strategizing to scale your organization’s R&D and fund-raising strategies to be prepared for that future?

I believe that now, more than ever, the public sees the value of science as vital to finding new health solutions. The rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine proved the power and ability of the scientific community when they are focused and have ample funds to carry out their research and development.

We know that post-pandemic, cancer will re-emerge as the number one health issue facing Canadians. We are actively working with donors and building our donor connections so we can increase funding for life-saving cancer research in the years to come.

With committed donors, Board, regional councils, we are growing our networks across B.C. to prepare for the needed expansion of cancer infrastructure and care in communities throughout the province. And I continue to work closely with our partners at BC Cancer, the Provincial Health Services Authority and Government of BC, as we, and our donors, are key partners to advance our province’s cancer strategy.

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the global healthcare services ecosystem?

There’s an incredible environment of collaboration among the global scientific community within cancer.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the healthcare services sector?

Working within healthcare is an incredibly fulfilling career. My advice would be to come with an insatiable appetite to learn, to develop skills around positive enquiry, and as people are at the heart of healthcare, focus on relationship building.



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