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McGill Reporter
April 11, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 14
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Heather Barwick: Taking issue with tissue

Photo PHOTO: Claudio Calligaris

She is the chief cytotechnologist for the Royal Victoria Hospital pathology department, responsible for overseeing the operations of the lab, quality control and maintaining stock. She is her department's back-up computer whiz, and with the ongoing adjustments arising from the creation of the MUHC she has had to employ new skills as diplomat and problem solver. Yet when Heather Barwick was nominated for the Anne McCormick Award for Excellence in the Faculty of Medicine, she was nearly stymied by one simple requirement.

"It was hard enough to sit down and write a CV," she said with a laugh. "I'd never had to do one before."

What she came up with explains why -- it lists her first job as "sales clerk, Simpson's." Her accomplishment for the following year is listed as "Developed and ran cytology lab, Westminster Hospital, London, Ontario."

Fortunately for McGill, London was not able to keep her. Barwick had trained as a cytotechnologist -- the people who examine tissue samples -- through Dawson College at the RVH. She created a job for herself in London, but the staff at the hospital here didn't want to lose her.

"They were calling me here before I even came back, and I held them off until after I got married. I started here a week after I got married and I've been here ever since," she said.

That was 26 years ago. Since then she has applied her organizational skills and indefatigable good cheer to taking on a staggering array of tasks -- tasks that only get more daunting and complicated over the years.

"How cytology is being done is changing, and you have to cope with that. And the sheer volume of work is always there," she said. Besides keeping busy as chief cytotechnologist, much of her time is taken up with administrative tasks, such as harmonizing procedures and computer systems between the merging Montreal General and RVH pathology departments and teaching medical students.

This doesn't stop her from taking on new challenges. Dr. Manon Auger is the medical director of the cytology department, and recommended Barwick for the McCormick award. She did so not only for her excellent work as a cytologist, but for "everything else she does."

Last year Auger had Barwick help her with a workshop in Quebec City. "I've been giving this workshop on the thyroid for years, and she came with me last year, and she reorganized the structure and presented it in a more efficient way," said Auger.

"She's one of these people -- and I've never met another person like this -- for whom nothing seems to be a problem. She always finds a solution."

Although, it's beyond the call of her job, Barwick rarely shuns taking on -- and then typically excelling at -- extra research projects.

"The first one was when I was pregnant, and was supposed to be finished before I went on maternity leave, but the first specimen didn't arrive until just before I left. I ended up doing part of it while I was on maternity leave. The pathologist I was working with [said] that parts of it are still sparking interest for creating other projects, and that was 19 years ago," she said. Barwick continues to match that standard of excellence, winning an award for research from the Canadian Society of Cytology just last year.

She still makes sure she gets a certain amount of "bench time" every week. She welcomes the opportunities extra tasks offer to break up the routine of her work, but in the end, she remains committed to the ideals of medicine.

"You have to remember that everything you do has a person at the other end of it," she said, "and you have to try to do the best for the patient."


The entire teaching of sexuality must be reviewed.

Religious studies professor emeritus Gregory Baum, on how the church should approach issues of marriage and gay love among priests. He spoke at a New Ways Ministry symposium called "Out of Silence God Has Called Us: Lesbian/Gay Issues and the Vatican II Church" and was quoted in The Boston Globe.

Learning the strings

Photo Pinchas Zukerman instructs Véronique Mathieu
PHOTO: Owen Egan

Violinist and National Art Centre Orchestra music director Pinchas Zukerman took a sip of his coffee and leaned forward, looking intently at music student Véronique Mathieu as she held her bow above her violin, ready for action. "Presto?" she asked. "Presto," he said and nodded slightly. She played a few quick ascending notes. He stopped her, saying, "more staccato, like this," picked up his violin and demonstrated.

Zukerman then showed Mathieu a thumb-strengthening exercise to do "on the bus, on the phone, at the movies -- don't hold hands with your boyfriend!" he laughed. "Tell him you're busy."

It could be any master class between virtuoso and disciple. Except for Mathieu was in McGill's Instructional Communications Centre TV studio, and Zukerman in a National Research Council studio in Ottawa, a couple of hundred kilometres away. This was McGill's first public "Ultra Videoconferencing," in which video and audio are transmitted as quickly as a violin maestro can wince at a wrong note.

Ultra Videoconferencing was conceived as part of the McGill Advanced Learnware Network Project, funded by Canarie Inc. and Cisco Inc. The project is headed by ICC director John Roston; Wieslaw Woszczyk, director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology; and Jeremy Cooperstock of the electrical and computer engineering department. Research associate Stephen Spackman developed the transmission software.

Existing videoconferencing technology, often used for business meetings, needs a transmission delay to compress the signal so it can fit conventional bandwidth. McGill uses a special high bandwidth Internet that connects major research institutions.

There appears to be a slight echo, a result from the sound transmission bouncing between the microphones at the two different sites. The team is working on reducing the transmission time so that it seems as though you're in a large room where sound travels from front to back. Roston says that already, over distances such as between Montreal and Ottawa, "it's capable for the audio to be so fast that people can play together."

The digital wide-screen SDI video, a 50" flat panel plasma display, is remarkably clear. Roston's assistant, Adam Finkelstein, explained "It's like a window. Not a TV -- that's the hardest thing to understand. It's like a window between here and Ottawa."

Zukerman is excited about the possibilities. Top teachers all over the world will be able to instruct their pupils in all kinds of hands-on techniques, and provide instant feedback. He has asked the team to look into setting it up so he can teach remotely in two places at once -- McGill and the Manhattan School of Music -- so that the students could benefit from sitting in on each other's classes. "Remember, this is incredible!" he urged." This is not just talking to a banker in Zurich!"


Having a language impairment isn't a reason to study one language only.

Associate Vice-Principal (Teaching Programs) Martha Crago, also a member of McGill's Centre for Research on Language, Mind and Brain. She talked to the Gazette about how bilingual students with a language impairment fare as well, or even better, than impaired students who study only French or English.

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