Dr. Karin Humphries has been a prominent researcher at CHÉOS since 2007, becoming Program Head of Cardiovascular Health in 2019. Sadly for us (but excitedly for her!), Dr. Humphries will be retiring from her role at Providence Health Care (PHC) and CHÉOS in spring 2023.
Closing the sex and gender gap in heart health care
During her time with CHÉOS, she has led and contributed to a wealth of projects to expand our knowledge and understanding of cardiovascular health, particularly among women.
“For the longest time, the medical profession and scientific profession viewed heart disease as a man’s disease,” Dr. Humphries once said in an interview with Heart & Stroke. “We made the assumption that what works in men works in women, and we are now learning that is not always true.”
Heart attack is a prime example. Classic heart attack symptoms, such as crushing central chest pain followed by light-headedness and collapsing, are widely recognized by both the public and the health care community. However, data supporting these symptoms were predominantly collected from male patients.
“Fifty percent of heart attacks are missed in women who show up to the emergency department with chest pain concerns,” explained Dr. Humphries in a recent CHÉOS story on women’s heart health, with patient advocate Denise Johnson. “Many women who have heart attacks describe their chest pain as pressure or squeezing and often have additional symptoms including nausea, discomfort in the back, neck, or jaw, and shortness of breath, which are not yet widely recognized as heart attack symptoms.”
She has subsequently led and contributed to vital projects to improve outcomes for women who have cardiac concerns. One example is CODE-MI, a clinical trial that is looking at whether using a female-specific threshold for high-sensitivity cardiac troponin (hs-cTn; a protein used in diagnosing heart attack across Canada) will improve the diagnosis and treatment of women presenting to the emergency department with cardiac chest pain.
Her dedication to improving heart health among women has led to outstanding moments in Dr. Humphries’ career.
In 2011, she was appointed UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professor in Women’s Heart Health. “This has been the highlight of my career,” said Dr. Humphries. “I see it not only as a personal accomplishment, but as validation of the importance of women’s heart health.”
In 2018, she was awarded the Faculty of Medicine Distinguished Researcher Award, and in 2019, Dr. Humphries went on to win the PHC Research and Mission Award, which was based on nominations from her colleagues.
Keeping up with collaboration
“I have loved working with colleagues both locally and internationally, as well as students. It’s been the most enjoyable part of my job. I have had the privilege of working with students from Europe over the last few years and this has been especially gratifying,” said Dr. Humphries.
One such student is Dr. Carlo Barcella, a CHÉOS postdoctoral fellow based in Denmark and originally from northern Italy, who is working to understand why people with mental health conditions are three times more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest, compared with people without mental illness.
After years of imparting her wisdom to students and early career cardiovascular researchers at PHC, CHÉOS, and UBC, where Dr. Humphries served as Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, she expresses one final piece of advice: “I encourage you to find both mentors and colleagues in the same field. Cardiovascular research, like all good research, is a team sport. You need to build up mutually beneficial relationships with people to really advance research and your career.”
Time to rest, relax, and learn how to code
After years of hard work and dedication to improving health outcomes, it’s fair to say that Dr. Humphries has earned a relaxing retirement. But with a penchant for learning and growing, her plans are perhaps a little less than restful…
“I have lots of plans for my retirement. Now that I have completed my Master Gardener certification, I am eager to work as a volunteer in gardens across the Lower Mainland. I am currently working at the North Shore Hospice, maintaining their garden for the patients, and I am working on the Butterfly Garden in Ambleside. I hope to set up another Butterfly Garden in my neighbourhood in North Vancouver over the next 2–3 years.”
“In addition, I hope to brush up on my French language skills. I used to be very good at French, but like most of us who live on the West Coast, there is very little opportunity to use the language, so I really struggle to read or speak it now. There are some great courses at UBC I plan on tackling.”
But wait, there is more!
“Despite my ‘advanced age’, I also plan on learning how to code. I have identified some beginner courses through Stanford University that I will take this fall. And last, but not least, I want to travel. For 2024, I have my eyes on a trip to the Galápagos Islands!”
Despite her many retirement plans, Dr. Humphries will continue to be a visible presence in the cardiovascular research world. Coming up in April, alongside CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Tara Sedlak, she will co-chair the fourth Canadian Women’s Heart Health Summit. This year, the Summit will be held in Vancouver and feature a number of leading researchers from St. Paul’s and Vancouver General Hospital, including CHÉOS’ Dr. Sandra Lauck, Dr. Jasmine Grewal, and women with lived experience. You can register here.
We wish you all the best in your retirement, Dr. Humphries! We will miss seeing you and honorary CHÉOS staff member Pippa around the office.