At the MS Society of Canada, we pride ourselves on storytelling with a purpose. We share the stories of caregivers, donors and those living with MS to ensure their voices are heard.
In the spirit of storytelling, I want to share part of my own story and how I came to be CEO and President of the MS Society.
I have worn many hats over the years. As a leader, a researcher, an innovator, a mother, a daughter, and a patient, I have had the opportunity to learn from a diverse set of experiences, which have prepared me for this next chapter in my journey.
So, for those of you who may be asking “who is Pam Valentine”, here are some of the pages from my story.
No matter where I find myself, Calgary will always be my home.
Born and raised in Alberta, I spent the first 35+ years of my life soaking up the sun in the Western flatlands, surrounded by family and friends. It is a community that I will always feel a part of.
As one of four kids, my siblings and I participated in a lot of sports together. My mother, a former physical education teacher, used to ‘park’ us at the local athletic club where we played in a variety of sports from synchronized swimming to tennis. My parents were both avid skiers, so every weekend you could expect to spot the Valentines riding the ski lift to the top of the powdery snow-capped mountains of Lake Louise.
My parents were both highly engaged members of our community, working with non-profit and government organizations. They held a number of high-profile public positions. My dad was the Auditor General of Alberta, and my mother was the chair of the public school board. Seeing your parents on the front page of the newspaper is embarrassing for any teenager, but as an adult, I am so proud of the contributions they made. Little did I know, I would follow in their footsteps and end up working in the public sector.
Like many Calgarians, my first job was at the Stampede, working as an usher in the clubhouse. The Stampede has always been important to my family, and my dad dedicated a lot of his time to the organization.
Truth be told, I never thought I would leave Calgary; but life is a journey, and who doesn’t love a good adventure?
Throughout my life, I have always gravitated towards science, so it was no surprise when I ended up devoting my career to the discipline.
I was fortunate to attend the University of Calgary (Go Dinos!), where I spent more than a decade expanding my horizons. Exploring my interest in discovering how the human brain functions and what causes impairments in its functionality led me to getting my Bachelor of Science in Psychology (Honours) and ultimately, a PhD in Neuroscience.
Following my post doctorate work, I joined the Department of Clinical Neurosciences in the Cummings School of Medicine at the University of Calgary and worked within the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. I worked as a basic scientist, embedded in a clinical unit focused on delivering comprehensive epilepsy services. This collaborative and multidisciplinary environment shaped my thinking about research early on. I was recognizing the value of discovery research, how it can inform the clinical relevancy of the questions I was asking as a scientist and how it was informed by the patient issues I was witnessing firsthand. I became interested in integration and transfer of knowledge between the research and clinical worlds, subsequently learning what players needed to be brought together for research to make a difference in the patients’ lives.
Fueled by my passion for health sciences, my career path was set in motion.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to join the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) initially to run the training programs. After years of success in the academic environment, it struck me that there was great value in being exposed to other settings in which research knowledge could help drive innovation. During my time within the organization, the AHFMR transitioned into Alberta Innovates Health Solutions. In the 15 years I spent there, I had the opportunity to lead and innovate change with partners through provincial level initiatives to improve health and healthcare. Through the years, I also worked to diversify and expand our health research profile while promoting the collaboration of our research institutions and the health system.
In 2016, I took on the transition CEO role, where I led the consolidation of the four Alberta Innovates corporations across the health, agriculture, forestry and energy sectors. Understanding the value in encouraging research and innovation across sector boundaries, I was excited to take on the challenge. To this day, I consider it as one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I have taken on.
If I could provide one piece of advice to others looking to hold leadership positions in the future, I would tell them to prioritize networking. Throughout my career, I sought out many mentors who helped me through the challenges I was facing at different points in time. I realize now how creating mentoring relationships was fundamental to achieving success in my career.
The Family Member
Growing up, my mom was the matriarch of the family – the glue that held us together. Every Sunday night, she insisted on having her four children under one roof for dinner. When I first became independent, I remember thinking the idea was silly, but as I grew older, I began to cherish our Sunday night dinners more and more.
While studying at the University of Calgary, I gave birth to my three beautiful children. During my first year of Master’s, my eldest son Josh was born. Then, in 2003 during my post-doctoral, I had my twins, Max and Liz.
I have a very strong relationship with all three of my children, and I am so proud of each of them, all for different reasons. I’d like to think that I am their rock, but who am I kidding, they’re mine.
During our family hangouts, I like to do whatever they like to do – just spending time with them is good enough for me. Food and cooking are passions for me, so it would not surprise you that cooking together with my children or going out with them to enjoy a meal are pretty typical activities for us. And of course, I followed my mother’s tradition and continue our Sunday night dinners.
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.
The opportunity to lead the MS Society of Canada arose toward the end of 2017. After years of experience in the health science and innovation sectors, I was honoured to take on the role of leading an organization on the cusp of so many breakthroughs. Improving the lives of Canadians living with a chronic illness is a priority for me.
One thing I want people living with MS to know is that in my life I’ve experienced heartache, joy, moments of fear, and moments of triumph, all of which I know resonate with someone who constantly battles a chronic and unpredictable illness. Understanding this, I hope together we can co-create a future where we understand and can better treat and reverse the course of the disease.
Thank you to the MS Society of Canada for the opportunity to innovate, learn and grow together.