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22 February 2019

Dr. Ronit Mesterman: the Gold Standard

By Berton Woodward

When Dr. Ronit Mesterman founded a group called PONDA in 2011, she was clear on what it needed to do. In fact, the mission is in the title—Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy. “The objective was to become a stronger voice for children in our province who have developmental disabilities,” says Ronit. “And I think we are getting there. We are getting noticed and the government is including us in its policy discussions.”

Headshot of Dr. Ronit MestermanThat has a lot to do with its founder. Ronit, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University, also carries the title of Medical Director of Developmental Pediatric Rehabilitation and Autism Spectrum Disorder Services at McMaster Children’s Hospital, an affiliate of the university that includes a Children’s Treatment Centre. In seeking to improve how care is delivered to children with a variety of special needs, PONDA, a network of physicians and psychologists, has worked to integrate services as much as possible, as well as raise awareness of learning disabilities and increase access to mental health services.

A key effort, says Ronit, is the push to have developmental pediatricians be a part of every Children’s Treatment Centre, since there is a medical component to so many of the challenges the children face. “It would not cost more money,” she notes, “because physicians bill through OHIP. It should be the gold standard to have this integration. It’s clear where the centres are integrated that the work can be done in a smoother, more holistic way.”

In 2017, Ronit received the Empowered Kids Ontario Advocacy Award due to her work with PONDA. Recently she stepped down as chair, handing off to Orillia developmental pediatrician Dr. Nicky Jones-Stokreef, but Ronit remains on the board.

In fact, Ronit never expected to get this involved in the first place. Born and raised in Germany with an Israeli heritage, she trained as a developmental pediatrician after moving to Israel. “But in Israel, medicine is very competitive,” she says. “To become an established leader, which I definitely wanted to be, it’s very common to do a stint abroad, especially in North America.”

So in 2004 she and her Israeli husband and three kids moved to Hamilton, where she was attracted by McMaster’s internationally known CanChild research centre. She planned to go back, “but life in Canada was very good and I literally fell in love with the life here. Fourteen years later, I’m still here.”

And she is certainly an established leader. She enjoys the process of thinking big and creating change. “I like to have ideas and to try and implement them.” What’s next? “I’m always open to new challenges.”