Brenda Hubley says it is ironic that as a child growing up in Nova Scotia, she favoured independent pursuits, such as horseback riding, over group activities.
“I was never a team sports girl,” she explains. “And then I moved into health care, which is such a team sport.” Today, Hubley is the chief program officer for CancerControl Alberta, taking on the operational leadership of all cancer programming provided by Alberta Health Services, which includes planning, delivery and evaluation of cancer services.
Collaborative work is at the heart of every step of her career in health care, from supporting radiation therapy students at the University of Alberta to leading the teams behind the Radiation Therapy (RT) Corridor, a project that has increased Albertans’ access to radiation therapy clinics. As a direct result of this initiative, 92 per cent of people in Alberta now live within 100 kilometres of a radiation therapy clinic.
“If I think about things that have made me really proud, [one] has been my ability to influence and support all practitioners to maximize their contributions regardless of their discipline or role,” she says.
After completing her bachelor of science degree in psychology and biology from Dalhousie University in 1988, Hubley began her career working at a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. When one of her clients was diagnosed with cancer, she was introduced to the Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation of Nova Scotia while supporting him through his treatment and care.
Shortly after the experience of caring for her client, she saw an advertisement in a local paper that put her career on a new trajectory.
“The Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation was looking for individuals interested in a career in radiation therapy,” she says, adding that the opportunity involved training in Toronto before eventually returning to Halifax to work. “It was a fully funded opportunity and I had just recently had this exposure to that world through my work, so I applied.”
Hubley became a staff radiation therapist at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax in 1992, after completing her diploma in radiation therapy, eventually progressing to the role of radiation therapy services manager. From 2000 until 2005, she was the School of Radiation Therapy’s clinical education director at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. Hubley credits the early years of her career as a radiation therapist for keeping her connected to the caregivers who interact with patients on a daily basis.
“Fundamentally, at the core of who I am, I’m a radiation therapist,” she says. “Very early in my career, it was really important to me to ensure that radiation therapists, as professionals, had as far and deep a reach into cancer services and providing patient care, and working to full scope of practice, that they possibly could.”
After meeting her Alberta-based partner, Craig, a university administrator and professor, during his sabbatical in Halifax, the pair relocated, to Lethbridge, Alberta. Although she has called Alberta home since 2005, Hubley still makes the trip home to her beloved East Coast as often as she can.
“As much as people here really love the mountains as being calm and very soothing, if you grow up around the water, you need water,” she says.
After a short time working away from cancer services at the University of Lethbridge, Hubley received a call from Dr. Peter Craighead, a contact from her days in radiation therapy. He wondered if she would be interested in an opportunity to work with the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and Hubley was quick to accept. From October 2005 to November 2007, Hubley was responsible for the development and management of an integrated clinical radiation therapy program within the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, splitting her time between her work in Calgary during the week and her home in Lethbridge on the weekends.
Eventually, Hubley’s work in Calgary led to her appointment as lead for the RT Corridor project and administrator of the Jack Ady Cancer Centre in Lethbridge. In this role, Hubley not only provided day-to-day direction and leadership in the administrative operations of the Jack Ady Cancer Centre, but also took on a key role in the project management, functional programming, and construction of radiation treatment centres and expanded cancer clinics in Red Deer and Grande Prairie.
She was named CancerControl Alberta’s executive director of community oncology and provincial practices in 2012, providing leadership and operational management in support of all cancer treatment centres outside of Calgary and Edmonton. When a work opportunity presented itself to Hubley’s partner in 2013, the pair moved to Edmonton, where she continued in her role as executive director of community oncology.
In the spring of 2018, Hubley became CancerControl Alberta’s senior program lead for the northern half of the province. And earlier this year, she moved into her current role as chief program officer, heading up all cancer operations within Alberta Health Services.
“I still do pinch myself that I have the opportunity to take on this role, and what the future can hold,” she says. “It’s about enabling our system to respond to what patients and families need.”
Hubley emphasizes that patients are at the heart of every decision she makes on the job. She aims to spend as much time as possible meeting with patients and their families in cancer care centres across the province, and engages regularly with team leaders and staff to listen, provide support, and make plans for the future.
“I really enjoy that strategic longer view,” she says. “Frankly, I probably frustrate some of the people I work with at times, but I am always encouraging us to look beyond a problem to the bigger picture, and to something a little bit further on.”
Dr. J. Dean Ruether began working closely with Hubley in 2015 when he took on the role of medical director of community oncology, CancerControl Alberta. He says that her clinical background and training contributes to her comprehensive understanding of cancer care.
“One of the things I appreciate the most about Brenda is that she has not forgotten her clinical roots,” he says. “She is always grounded in ‘what does this mean for patients?’ and she can speak with credibility because of her clinical background. She is an absolute joy to work with.”
Hubley has remained an advocate for radiation therapists throughout her career, serving as vice-president of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists from 2004 to 2008, and working with colleagues at the University of Alberta to enhance and improve radiation therapy education programs in the province.
“When I first came to Alberta and through my early time here, I worked really hard to move our radiation therapy education program from being hospital-based to being a baccalaureate-qualified program within the University of Alberta,” she says. “I’m very proud of that.”
Looking to the future, Hubley says she is excited about the opportunity to improve and enhance cancer care in Alberta even further.
One important area of focus for Hubley and her team in the coming months and years is ensuring that cancer care services represent the full diversity of Alberta’s population.
“We’ve started some important work on engaging with our patients, building a network of patient advisors, really bringing patients into our planning and how we deliver services in a material and important way,” she says. “Not just as a token, but really as a partner in care.”
Her colleague, Marg Semel, senior program lead (south), CancerControl Alberta, says that Hubley’s ability to consider the voices of all stakeholders in the provincial cancer system is one of her strongest assets.
“As a leader, she has a vision for the provincial cancer system,” says Semel. “As someone who has a deep understanding of the cancer system, she is open to hearing new ideas and moving these ideas forward. She listens respectfully, and she integrates what she has heard to take these ideas to an even stronger place.”
Hubley says that her immediate focus is to support teams in enhancing their work with Indigenous and diverse populations including LGBTQ+ in the province, ensuring that the patient-provider partnership is meeting the needs of all Albertans.
“It really is about being very inclusive and respectful of the diversity of our patient population and the staff that we have in supporting our patients,” she says.
Another key area of focus for CancerControl Alberta is using research generated in partnership with the Alberta Cancer Foundation to enhance patient care and patient outcomes, says Hubley.
“The important element that we’re looking to in the future is really using that research to generate knowledge — not just information, but knowledge — and translating that into practice that changes and improves outcomes,” she says.
Much of this work, she adds, is collaborative, which means that relationships and partnerships between care providers, patients and the wider community will continue to be nurtured in the years ahead.
“Our program, and much of what we do, is around active therapy and treatments for patients with cancer,” says Hubley. “We are collaborating with partners in prevention and screening, as well as to support patients through their whole trajectory — putting mechanisms in place to ensure that patients get diagnosed quickly so they can move on to active treatment, and then supporting them post-treatment.”
“It’s really about those partnerships,” she says. “Both across Alberta Health Services and with our community, so that we can improve the care across that continuum.”
Brenda Hubley Career Highlights
- Appointed chief program officer for CancerControl Alberta in March 2019, taking on the operational leadership of cancer programming within Alberta Health Services.
- Brought cancer care closer to home for patients outside of Edmonton and Calgary through the Radiation Therapy Corridor, ensuring that 92 per cent of Albertans now live within 100 km of a radiation therapy clinic.
- Supported the transition of the University of Alberta’s radiation therapist training program from a hospital-based program to a baccalaureate-qualified academic program.
- Served as vice-president (2004-2008) of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists, which represents over 12,000 members as the national professional association and certifying body for medical radiation technologists and therapists.
- Continues to work collaboratively with First Nations, Métis and LGBTQ+ stakeholders to enhance and improve person-centred cancer care that is reflective of the populations served by Alberta’s health-care system.