Celebrating WCH’s first chief of psychiatry, Dr. Lois Plumb
Dr. Lois Plumb
"For all the staff, both medical and paramedical, Dr. Plumb has been, and will continue to be, an example of the “Good Physician” who has competence, skill, integrity and empathy.”
– Annual Report of WCH’s Department of Psychiatry, 1973.
Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has a long legacy of providing unique and much needed care and research in the field of women’s mental health, beginning with our first Chief of Psychiatry, Dr. Lois Plumb, and continuing today.
At the young age of 22, Dr. Lois Plumb graduated from medical school at Western University in 1946. Her family expected that she would become a paediatrician because they believed that, as a woman doctor, she would naturally be inclined to care for children. However, to everyone’s surprise (including Dr. Plumb herself), she found her true calling while interning at a veterans’ hospital in London, Ontario, after witnessing firsthand the dramatic toll that war had taken on the mental health of soldiers returning from World War II.
Following her internship, Dr. Plumb moved to Toronto, completed postgraduate training at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, and earned a diploma in psychiatry from the University of Toronto (UofT). In 1956, WCH hired Dr. Plumb to lead the expansion of its inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services.
While at WCH, she also served as a visiting lecturer and a clinical teacher at UofT’s Department of Psychiatry, where her writings cautioned against viewing pregnancy as solely a “biological event.” She warned that by only focusing on anatomy and physiology, the emotional aspects of pregnancy are often overlooked. She explained that, for many women, pregnancy and motherhood can bring with it great psychological strain, including stress, depression, irritability, fatigue, and fear.
In 1961, Dr. Lois Plumb was formally appointed WCH’s first chief of psychiatry. During her tenure, she expanded the size of the department and increased the diversity of programs available to women during different stages of life. She held the position of chief until 1973, and remained affiliated with WCH until 1997. In 2002, Dr. Plumb passed away at the age of 78.
Today, under the guidance of Dr. Simone Vigod, WCH Chief of Psychiatry, the Women's Mental Health Program continues to build on Dr. Lois Plumb’s legacy of compassionate care for women, offering a wide variety of innovative programs designed to meet women’s unique mental health needs.
The program has grown to serve women who have depression and anxiety associated with menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause; women who have psychiatric and psychological issues that result from early life abuse or neglect; and women who have mental health issues associated with medical conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) and their treatment.
Through the Women's Mental Health program and its services like the Reproductive Life Stages program and Mother Matters, WCH continues to build on the pioneering work of Dr. Lois Plumb by providing care to women during the unique life stage leading up to, during and after pregnancy where mental illness poses risks and, in turn, opportunities for a mother and child.