SREMI Clinician Scientist Profile | Dr. Varner

Catherine Varner

A national leader in emergency department pregnancy care, Dr. Catherine Varner produces impactful research, educates frontline nurses and doctors, and advocates for more maternal health research in Canada. 

In just five years, Dr. Varner has built a successful early pregnancy research program with clinical researchers, dedicated patients with lived experience, and clinician experts. With the program’s delivery of impactful research studies, Dr. Varner has become a nationally regarded expert in emergency department pregnancy care and is a recognized leader in policy, education and advocacy for maternal health in Canada. 

Canadian emergency departments frequently care for pregnant patients. Dr. Varner’s recent health services study revealed that between 2002-2017 nearly one in three pregnant women in Ontario sought treatment in the emergency department during or shortly after their pregnancy. In addition, four in five women experiencing early pregnancy loss, also known as miscarriage, are cared for in emergency departments. These findings suggest Canadian women do not have urgent access to obstetrical care when early pregnancy complications are most likely to occur, and emergency departments may be the only option for patients experiencing symptoms such as bleeding or pain. 

Thus, the onus is on Canadian emergency departments, especially the emergency department of Mount Sinai Hospital, an international leader in women and infant’s health, to develop the best models of care for this most frequent complication of pregnancy. To accomplish this goal, Dr. Varner and her collaborators at North York General Hospital are leading educational training sessions for both hospitals’ emergency and obstetrical providers. Dr. Varner also teaches emergency care providers at national continuing medical education courses.

Catherine Varner

Dr. Varner now leads the charge advocating for more research funding for early pregnancy complications. Pregnancy research tends to focus on pregnancies that end in live births; however, this overlooks pregnancy loss, which can have serious physical and mental health consequences. She and collaborators at the University of Manitoba, University of Calgary and University of Toronto have submitted several proposals to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to describe the relationship between pre-pregnancy health and pregnancy outcomes, predict potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies and prevent the long-term complications arising from early pregnancy loss. 

For her impactful research studies, Dr. Varner was awarded the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians Top New Investigator Award in 2020. In addition, three of her research abstracts are currently under adjudication for the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine’s Young Investigator Award, North America’s largest academic emergency medicine association. Over the past year, Dr. Varner completed a Certificate in Health Impact Journalism at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Now a recognized health journalist, she writes news stories for The Conversation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and Healthy Debate. 

Catherine Varner