Tammy Mah-Fraser has always lived by the rule to be “true to yourself.” It’s a rule she’s used to develop a successful career as a senior administrator at Alberta Innovates, working with people to advance health innovation. It’s also a rule she learned early in life.
Growing up in Edmonton, Mah-Fraser looked up to her mother who was a nurse.
“Her work intrigued me early about the importance of health,” says Mah-Fraser, who’s the Executive Director of Health Platforms at Alberta Innovates.
Later, while working as a university student in Edmonton, she remembers receiving timely advice from her mother.
“I had spent a summer job working alone in a laboratory. Coming home and perhaps sensing my reaction, my mother said, ‘I think your personality is more suited to working with people.’ Her words got me thinking,” Mah-Fraser says.
Following this advice and staying true to herself would be something that Mah-Fraser would return to repeatedly, as she took steps to build a future career path in health care, starting with her university education.
In 1993, she earned a BSc in genetics and sociology at the University of Alberta. To build on this achievement, she traveled to Pittsburgh, where she completed a MSc in 1996 in genetics counselling at the University of Pittsburgh. This gave her the clinical skills to work with families and patients facing different genetic conditions.
To broaden her health expertise further, she next set about earning a DrPH in public health at the University of Pittsburgh. Over the next decade, from 1996, she studied for her degree while working as a genetics counsellor and then a clinical research director in the university’s department of ophthalmology.
Building upon her prior roles, she was rapidly gaining experience in health care operations. At the same time, she was learning how to succeed in a largely male-dominated work environment. From a local church pastor, she received some important coaching.
“She said that, as a woman professional, you have to learn to know how to speak thoughtfully and when it counts. That’s advice that has always stuck with me,” Mah-Fraser says.
By 2006, she had spent a decade in the United States and increasingly she longed to return to her home province.
“There is a lot of strong female leadership already in Alberta’s health care system. So, coming back to Alberta presented a lot more opportunities for me as a woman professional,” Mah-Fraser says.
Returning to Alberta in 2006, she rose through increasingly senior research roles, first at the Primary Care Network and later at the Cross Cancer Institute and the C17 Council, a non-profit focused on pediatric oncology research.
By 2011, remembering her mother’s advice and looking for a change, she began to look for a new opportunity to work with people as a senior health administrator. This time a job opened up at Alberta Innovates as project manager of the Alberta Clinical Research Consortium, working with different health experts to promote clinical research best practices across the province.
Since then and several jobs later, she has moved up to Executive Director of Health Platforms, a job she has held since 2019. In this role, she oversees the Alberta Clinical Research Consortium, the Alberta SPOR Support Unit (a group dedicated to integrating research into patient care) as well as programs focused on the Ethics of Innovation at Alberta Innovates, which is to assist innovators and implementers consider the ethical, legal, social impacts of the technology they are developing or implementing through practical tools and guidelines. Alberta Innovates, she says, is uniquely positioned in that it has a provincial view towards health system transformation.
Outside of work, Mah-Fraser is creating a market garden and berry farm called Wolfberry Farms that will be launching this summer.
“Often I am involved in conversations with different institutions — for example, university and health care providers — to look for collaborative ways to make the health system more robust and efficient,” she says.
To get to her current role, it’s taken Mah-Fraser several decades of learning and building on each new experience. At each step of the way, she has always tried to stick closely to the advice she received long ago.
“It’s something I’ve always tried to live by: to be true to yourself and learn from experience to create your path. It’s been a continual journey.”