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Dr. Karen Saperson, FRCPC: 2017 Recipient of the Royal College’s AMS/Donald R. Wilson Award

Karen Saperson

"Dr. Saperson is unquestionably a pioneer in the field of mentorship”

Dr. Karen Saperson, FRCPC


2017 recipient of the Royal College’s AMS/Donald R. Wilson Award

  • Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Education, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University
  • Program Director, Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Academic Head, Division of Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Staff psychiatrist, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton

“When residency gets busy, it’s easy to let research initiatives fall to the back burner and see them as tedious,” said Dr. Zahida Meghji, a psychiatry resident who participated in the Community of Practice Leadership Program led by Dr. Saperson. I appreciated her dedication to helping our group of residents not only in engage in an initiative that we found meaningful and passionate, but also connect with one another."

A champion of academic scholarship

Academic productivity is not a curricular goal in residency programs, but psychiatrist Dr. Karen Saperson strongly believes that it should be. She has made it her life’s work to mentor hundreds of residents and new faculty towards demonstrating excellence in the CanMEDS Scholar Role. She has won the 2017 Royal College/AMS Donald Richards Wilson Award for inspiring and developing novel teaching methodologies that have raised the quality and quantity of research and scholarship emanating from her department at McMaster University.

Psychiatry residents Roselyn Wilson, Zahida Meghji and Stephanie Bouskill, shown here in 2014, were among a group of residents mentored by Dr. Saperson. They partnered with nurses to publish research on how to better understand each other’s roles in the psychiatric emergency room.

Photo credit – The Spectator

Formal leadership training matters

Recognizing the importance of fostering leadership skills early on during residency, Dr. Saperson led a leadership community of practice for senior residents interested in enhancing their relationship-management skills and scholarly output. She mentored a group of residents and nurses who teamed up to research how well they understood each other’s roles in the setting of the psychiatric emergency room. Their results uncovered communication breakdowns due to perceived hierarchy and differing perceptions, which could have significant impacts on patient care. The residents and nurses bolstered their personal publication records and presentation skills by publishing and presenting their work as a conference abstract at the Royal College’s International Conference on Residency Education. In the broader context of medical education, their work highlighted just how valuable CanMEDS Collaborator and Communicator competencies can be in developing shared understandings of interprofessional roles.

“Her support of the career development of new faculty is outstanding and quite frankly worth an award in itself,” said Dr. Alan J. Neville, FRCPC, Associate Dean of Education in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.

Dr. Karen Saperson (right) with some of her colleagues at McMaster University.Dr. Karen Saperson (right) with some of her colleagues at McMaster University.

Helping female residents raise their game in scholarship

Dr. Saperson also helped facilitate a mentorship program at McMaster University implemented by her colleague, Dr. Ana Hategan, FRCPC, that drove up scholarship among female psychiatry residents. Noticing that female residents were generally not publishing as much academic scholarly work as males, their study paired participants with a female faculty mentor, who helped them create and submit manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals. What followed was a demonstrated increase in female scholarly productivity and female principal authorship roles, and a publication co-authored by faculty and residents in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education (PDF). This writing mentorship program has now been successfully adopted by the entire Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. It will provide inspiration to residency programs that are considering how best to prepare their residents for competency based medical assessment.

Awarded Founder status in Geriatric Psychiatry

An outstanding role model for scholarship, Dr. Saperson has provided an indispensable service to her profession by contributing to the subspecialty of Geriatric Psychiatry. Her lifelong commitment to the field helped support the work of those leading the initiative to turn it into an official subspecialty recognized by the Royal College. In recognition of the national reach of her scholarship, expertise and knowledge translation in this discipline, the Royal College awarded her Founder status for the subspecialty of Geriatric Psychiatry, and she became its first program director at McMaster University.

“Part of what attracted me to medicine was the concept of working in an educational team with medical students, residents, and junior and senior faculty,” said Dr. Karen Saperson, FRCPC. “To be able to formalize these relationships and grow them through joint education and scholarship is part of the joy of working in this area.”

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