Behind the Screen of Cervical Health: No Better Mother’s Day Gift than Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

Mother’s Day is dedicated to showing appreciation for the warm and wonderful women in our lives. It is a day to honour women and to recognize the efforts and accomplishments they’ve made in improving the lives of those around them.

Meet Dawn Mercer, an Eastern Health employee who has been nursing for over 26 years! Since beginning her nursing career, Dawn has been dedicated to protecting the health and wellbeing of thousands of others, and more recently, the health of women, including our grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dawn graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland’s School of Nursing in 1986, and went on to work in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador in the fields of intensive care, public health and continuing care community health nursing.

Eleven years ago, Dawn started working on the front line of the provincial Cervical Screening Initiatives Program – a program that works closely with all physicians, nurse practitioners, health-care professionals and community partners to educate the public on the importance of regular Pap screening.

Many individuals may have heard of the provincial Cervical Screening Initiatives Program through promotional messages; however, few may know of the tremendous coordination that occurs behind the scenes that help women who have received abnormal Pap tests to receive follow-up care as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Dawn Mercer, provincial colposcopy project manager, Eastern Health

A Passion for Pap Testing

Dawn knows that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and one of the biggest risk factors for developing cervical cancer is not having a regular Pap test.

As the regional coordinator for the launch of the provincial Cervical Screening Initiatives Program in Clarenville, NL, in 2006, Dawn helped build a regional team to support the implementation of the new program. Dawn involved local health-care providers, educators, and community organizations in building momentum to establish the program and engage women to have regular Pap tests as part of their personal health routine. Dawn has been instrumental in moving the program ahead and, statistics demonstrate that by 2012 approximately seven out of 10 women in Newfoundland and Labrador had routine Pap tests!

Investigator, Nurse or… Wonder Woman?

It was not long thereafter that Dawn became involved in the broader discussion of Pap testing, which focused on the colposcopy service and what happens after the screening process when a patient receives an abnormal Pap test.

A colposcopy is a gynecological procedure used by physician specialists to magnify and illuminate a woman’s vulva, vaginal walls and uterine cervix. This procedure is often performed to assess an abnormal appearing cervix or after a patient has received an abnormal Pap test result. The purpose of this procedure is to help a physician determine what may be causing the abnormal appearing cervix or the abnormal Pap test so that appropriate treatment can be given.

After eight years of leading the promotion of cervical screening in Clarenville and area, Dawn took a new career path to coordinate an environmental scan of all the pathways for women who have received abnormal Pap test results. This was a very busy and exciting time for Dawn’s career – she looked at Canadian, American and international standards and practices; brought the review to a provincial colposcopy committee; and established a best practice model for Newfoundland and Labrador!

Since Eastern Health supports an organized continuous improvement approach to cervical screening, the proposed best practice model was then reviewed by each regional health authority in Newfoundland and Labrador (Central Health, Western Health and Labrador-Grenfell Health) to help share the information and assess the capacity to enhance the service in the all regions of the province.

Dawn has worked closely with health-care professionals throughout the province to identify where changes could be made, such as improved record keeping, scheduling, registration, electronic charting and automated correspondence.  She also coordinates a review of all new patients diagnosed and navigates the patient’s pathway to a diagnosis.

Behind the Scenes of Abnormal Pap Tests

As part of Dawn’s work in establishing a best practice model, a new a standard colposcopy referral form has been developed. Gynecologists review the referral and assign when the women will be seen.  Following a woman’s visit to a colposcopy clinic, a standard report is generated to notify the client’s/patient’s family doctor and the provincial Cervical Screening Initiatives Program of the test results, the plan, and/or next steps. With so many people involved in screening and colposcopy assessment, communication between health-care professionals is critical!

Members of the St. John’s area colposcopy working group, Eastern Health
(left row from front to back) Brenda Oldford, divisional manager of obstetrics and gynecology and the Women’s Health Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre; Dr. Cherry Pike, gynecologist; Dr. Cathy Popaduik, gynecologic oncologist
(right row from front to back) Dawn Mercer, provincial colposcopy project manager; Denise Chant, quality and clinical safety lead

With her hard work and dedication to women’s health over the years, Dawn has received tremendous satisfaction after the introduction of a new electronic health report in Clarenville’s colposcopy suite. She takes great pride in knowing that this process is currently being expanded to sites across the Eastern Health region!

To Infinity and Beyond

Dawn’s current role includes promoting best practices for women who have received abnormal Pap test results in their routine screening. She also works at a national level with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer to develop a monitoring framework with indicators that will inform Canadian provinces and jurisdictions of their performance levels compared to other areas. One of her current focus points provincially is to review the care received by women with abnormal findings and to build a reminder system for health-care providers.

Dawn, like so many other Eastern Health employees, goes above and beyond to ensure that women across Newfoundland and Labrador – and the rest of Canada – receive the best possible care.

Not only as Mother’s Day approaches, but every day, our health-care professionals are standing together to improve the health of women in all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador. This Mother’s Day, think of reminding the wonderful women in your life of the importance of scheduling their next Pap test – cancer prevention and early detection may be the best Mother’s Day gift you can give to your loved ones.

For more resources or to contact the provincial Cervical Screening Initiatives Program in your area, please visit

This story was written by Joanne Rose, provincial lead for the development of the province-wide Cervical Screening Initiatives Program coordinated by the Provincial Cancer Care Program.

4 responses to “Behind the Screen of Cervical Health: No Better Mother’s Day Gift than Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

  1. Great work and a great story! All the best Dawn! It was so very nice to have worked with you many moons ago! 🙂

  2. How wonderful to see Dawn is still giving life changing help and support. In 2001 my mother was taken I’ll mid flight, after an emergency landing she was taken to Halifax in intensive care, critically ill. Dawn and the ICU team kept her alive. My Father was with her throughout while my brother, sister and I spent a month with her. Dawn was a shining light and inspiration. Thank you Dawn and well done on this acknowledgement.

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