Wall of Fame inductee answers the challenge

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Dr. Susan Poelman

VULCAN – From an early age Susan Poelman knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Ask her and she’d tell you she was going to be a nursing administrator, just like her mother, Marie. Yet when Poelman shared those career designs with her role model, Marie challenged her daughter to think about becoming a doctor.

“I would say, ‘I don’t know if I have what it takes.’ But she firmly believed in me and believed I had what it took to be a doctor,” says Poelman, a Calgary Christian School graduate and one of two inductees into Palliser Regional Schools’ Wall of Fame for the 2018-2019 school year.

Thanks to both parents and educators who challenged her – and perhaps one naysayer – she took to the stage at Palliser’s Opening Day staff celebration as Dr. Poelman. She was recognized for her outstanding work in the area of medicine/dermatology.

Touring the halls of Rockyview General Hospital with her mother as a youngster, Poelman found it an exciting yet comfortable environment.  Marie’s love of medicine was contagious and Poelman’s Grade 10 biology teacher at Calgary Christian School helped further instill an interest in the human body.

“He just made it come to life,” says Poelman, adding Loren Visscher’s skill as a communicator is evident by the fact she remembers so many analogies he used in the classroom. “He was just a fascinating, energetic, enthusiastic, young teacher.”

Small classrooms helped students nurture relationships with their teachers and Visscher was just one of the phenomenal educators who dominate her memories of Calgary Christian School

Another was Desiree Francisco, a Calgary Christian French teacher Poelman chose to introduce her at the Wall of Fame ceremony. The advanced French tutelage the “super enthusiastic” teacher provided helped Poelman cruise through university French classes. It also helped her land a very competitive residency position at McGill University in Montreal, where a proficiency in French was paramount.

“It was because of this woman, and God’s grace, that I was able to achieve the unachievable, to get this highly sought after residency position in dermatology,” she says.

Poelman also credits – in a backhand fashion – a career counsellor in college who tried to steer her away from medicine. She still updates him via email every time she receives a new accolade in the hope he will realize the error in his ways.

“If someone tells you that you can’t, it’s kind of energizing because you want to prove them wrong,” says Poelman. “There will be naysayers. There will be adversity. There will be trials, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your goals.”

This year’s other inductee is Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, a graduate of Coalhurst High School who was recognized for outstanding work in the field of animal science. The purpose behind the Wall of Fame is both to celebrate the successes of former Palliser students and inspire future students

“If someone asked my advice for a student who wants to achieve something, it would be to not give up, to work hard and have a positive attitude, because that will get you far,” says Poelman.

Poelman’s early career aspiration was to work with breast cancer patients as an oncologist. A mentor, however, steered her towards dermatology and took her on as a medical student in that field.

It wasn’t just “acne and warts,” she says of the intrigue dermatology held for her. It was that skin is a window to the world of the internal body. 

“Our knowledge and skill in diagnosing systemic disorders is an under-recognized aspect of dermatology,” says Poelman, “along with the fact that like most other specialties in medicine, dermatology requires 14 years of post-secondary education.”

Dr. Poelman has been practicing medicine as a dermatologist for nine years and currently works in private practice in Calgary. She has a special interest in skin cancer, is the director of the Southern Alberta Pigmented Lesions clinic, and lectures at local, national and international meetings.

Poelman also serves as a member of the Canadian Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation executive board; the Women’s Dermatologic Society International Affairs committee; the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Sun Awareness Committee; and is chair of the CDA Practice Management Working Group.

Always grateful for the efforts and attention of her own teachers, Poelman also enjoys teaching and mentoring young medical trainees as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine.

“I do it because I love to pay it forward. It’s very gratifying to know you are making a difference and you are giving back,” she says.

Poelman and her husband Marlen have three children, Adalyn, Jake and Ella.

To read her biography or learn more about other Wall of Fame inductees, CLICK HERE