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Dr. Mary J. Esplen - University Health Network. Toronto, ON, CA

Dr. Mary J. Esplen Dr. Mary J. Esplen

Affiliate Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre; Executive Director, de Souza Institute | University Health Network

Toronto, ON, CANADA

Dr. Esplen has dedicated her research to the field of oncology and to improving clinical outcomes and services






Dr. Mary Jane Esplen - Doves of Hope Dr. Mary Jane Esplen @ National Cancer Survivors Day 2014 The de Souza model of competency-based education in oncology care Novel training models: Role in medical psychiatry




Dr. Mary Jane Esplen is a Scientist, Clinician and Full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She has dedicated her research to the field of psychosocial oncology and to improving clinical outcomes and services. She is known for developing and testing new psychosocial interventions or tools to measure experiences following a cancer diagnosis or for those who undergo genetic testing. Dr. Esplen is the inaugural Executive Director of the innovative de Souza Institute, established in 2008 at University Health Network and funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. The Institute is now a national organization and provides current, innovative and accessible sources of educational support, professional development and career counseling to health care professionals serving patients and families in oncology or in hospice palliative care. Programs range from prevention to end of life care, and the Institute offers a unique learning pathway to achieve “de Souza Designations” - a gold standard demonstrating specialist expertise in cancer care. The Institute has expanded recently, offering its programs across Canada.

Dr. Esplen is a past President of the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology and chaired the Psychosocial Subcommittee, Ontario Provincial Advisory Board for New Technologies in Genetics to inform new health services for genetic testing. She continues to work with the Ministry of Health for a variety of groups, from introduction of new technologies to end-of-life care. She serves on several boards of directors to support palliative care or the use of music in health care. She recently completed a trial of a group therapy to address body image and sexual functioning concerns among cancer patients. She is now planning a trial to test music in hospice and palliative care settings. In 2011, Dr. Esplen received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO) for her contributions to the field of psycho-oncology.

Industry Expertise (2)



Areas of Expertise (12)

Psychosocial Oncology


Clinical Research

Lynch Syndrome

Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer Genetics

Women's Mental Health

Women-Centered Psychotherapies

Guided Imagery


Colorectal Cancer genes

Impact of genetic testing

Accomplishments (4)

Lifetime Achievement Award (professional)


Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO)

The Psychotherapy Award for Academic Excellence (professional)


Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto

Distinguished Alumnae Award (professional)


Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto

Alan Wu Prize for Clinical Science Division (professional)


Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto (thesis dissertation)

Education (5)

Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute: Post Doctoral Training, Cancer Genetics, Psycho-oncology & Women's Mental Health 1997

University of Toronto: Ph.D., Medical Science 1996

University of Toronto, Department of Psychiatry: Research Fellowship, Psychosomatic Medicine 1995

University of Toronto: M.Sc.N., Psychiatry 1991

University of Toronto: B.Sc.N., Nursing 1985

Affiliations (5)

  • Canadian Association for Psychosocial Oncology: Past President and current member
  • Ontario Provincial Advisory Board for New Technologies in Genetics : Chair Psychosocial Committee
  • University of Toronto : Vice Chair Basic and Clinical Sciences Department of Psychiatry; Chair of Decanal Committee
  • Ontario Institute for Cancer Research : Affiliate Scientist
  • Mount Sinai Hospital : Associate Scientist / Member

Media Appearances (17)

Two oncology nurses honoured

Barrie Today  online


“It is so timely that these two extraordinary nurses are being celebrated during Nursing Week, this year’s theme is With you every step of the way as it is symbolic of commitment nurses have to their patients and families,” says Dr. Mary Jane Esplen, executive director of de Souza Institute. “We are proud to say that de Souza stands with nurses in every step they take. We support them in their journey to advance their knowledge and expertise, enabling them to confidently and safely handle every situation from managing a reaction to chemotherapy medication, to managing anxiety and fears, or to managing pain and other symptoms.”...

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Exceptional NHH nurse recognized

Northumberland Today  online


Quoted in the hospital’s announcement, de Souza executive director Dr. Mary Jane Esplen offered some comments.

“Being the first de Souza Nurse at Northumberland Hills Hospital and in the Central East LHIN is a remarkable accomplishment that showcases Kimberly’s capacity to lead and motivate others,” Esplen said.

“Her de Souza training has strengthened her determination to always put patients first and provide truly person-centred care.”...

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‘Super nurses’ take pressure off cancer specialists, patients

The Globe and Mail  online


Mary Jane Esplen, the executive director of the de Souza Institute and a professor at the University of Toronto, says she sometimes uses the word “super nurse” to designate these professionals...

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In nursing, specializing is ‘the new normal’

The Globe and Mail  online


The de Souza Institute is an example of the effort to provide nurses with specialization in the area of oncology. The institute offers a program, accessible to all nurses in Ontario, to teach new skills and knowledge that can be applied in the work force, said institute director Mary Jane Esplen...

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Mom tells daughters of her BRCA gene

The Toronto Star  online


Michele Herman has two beautiful daughters.

Erica is 14 and Rachel is 11.For now, they are busy being kids. But one day, they will have to confront an uncomfortable reality.

They each have a 50-per-cent chance of inheriting a gene mutation that would put them at a greatly increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Mary Jane Esplen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, says the gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been known since the mid-90s, which means a new generation of young people affected by them is emerging: The children of adults who already know they have the gene.

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Studies examine psychosocial issues unique to women

Hospital News  online


In step with the burgeoning area of women’s health, clinicians and researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital’s Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care program have launched a series of clinical studies and initiatives to address psychosocial issues unique to women.

Several of their efforts are directed towards women with breast cancer, given the high prevalence of the disease and its psychosocial implications. With improved screening, women with breast cancer live longer, but body image concerns, fear of recurrence, lymphedema, pain, premature menopause, and cognitive changes may persist.

hus, social workers Maureen Jackman and Terry Cheng led a multidisciplinary Task Force that developed a very useful and comprehensive patient education booklet. Using non-medical terms, Getting Back on Track: Life after Treatment offers information and resources on a wide range of topics, from dealing with fatigue, finances and faith, to the social and emotional needs of patients as they strive to return to everyday life. It is available at www.uhn.ca/patient/health_info/references/breastcancer_booklet.asp?nav=2;5.2

Building on the success of the information booklet, T.Cheng, M. Jackman and their colleagues, Dr. Jennifer Jones and Dr. Mary Jane Esplen are developing a randomized clinical trial to assess the impact of a brief psychoeducation group to prepare women with breast cancer for their survivorship recovery.

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Brenda Orazietti, Interview discussing leadership in nursing

Brenda Orazietti  tv


Dr. Esplen discusses leadership in nursing.

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Panel appearance discussing genetic testing with Dr. Thomas Hudson, MIT - based Human Genome Mapping Group

Pamela Wallin and Company  tv


Panel appearance discussing genetic testing with Dr. Thomas Hudson, MIT - based Human Genome Mapping Group; Dr. Peter Ray, Director DNA Diagnostics Lab, Hospital for Sick Children; Dr. Bernard Dickens, Professor of Law, Faculty of Medicine and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto.

Discussing psychosocial issues surrounding women carrying breast cancer gene mutations

CBC Newsworld, Health Matters  tv


Interview discussing psychosocial issues surrounding women carrying breast cancer gene mutations.

Breast cancer, psychosocial impact of gene mutation carrier status, guided imagery, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and colorectal cancer

Diagnosis MD, LIFE Network  tv


Pre-recorded four half-hour shows as part of panel discussing various aspects of breast cancer, psychosocial impact of gene mutation carrier status, guided imagery, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and colorectal cancer. Airdates May 5, 18, 25, 31, 2000

Family Matters: Mom tells daughters of her BRCA gene

The Toronto Star  print


Family Matters: Mom tells daughters of her BRCA gene

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Libby Znaimer, In Cancerland, Living Well is the Best Revenge

Key Porter Books  print


Making the best of what you’ve got, numerous quotes from conversations with Dr. Mary Jane Esplen.

Breast Cancer Research Bulletin

Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance  print


Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance, Research Advisory Committee Member Profile, Mary Jane Esplen, RN, PhD. Pp 3 – 4

Preparing for genetic testing; Educational approach not enough

Memorial University Gazette  print


Interview article entitled “Preparing for genetic testing; Educational approach not enough”. St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Cancer gene carriers share terrible secret

The Toronto Star  print


Feature article entitled “Cancer gene carriers share terrible secret”, discussing the role of group psychotherapy and intervention study in decision making and coping strategies of cancer gene mutation carriers. (Front Page Article)

Body Image Disturbance and Sexuality Following Treatment

Oncology Exchange  online


This prospective randomized controlled study tested a group intervention for body image disturbance and problems with sexual functioning following treatment for breast cancer (BCa).

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Female cancer survivors seek help for sexual problems

The Toronto Star  online


After suffering behind a wall of silence and shame for decades, female cancer survivors experiencing sexual problems are beginning to get help. Dr. Esplen discusses her study trial on this topic.

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Event Appearances (1)

Presentation and panel discussant - Rethink, Breast Fest Film Festival: “Body Image, Sexuality & Breast Cancer”

Life is the Main Thing,  Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON


Articles (13)

The determinants of home and nursing home death: a systematic review and meta-analysis BMC Palliative Care


Most Canadians die in hospital, and yet, many express a preference to die at home. Place of death is the result of the interaction among sociodemographic, illness-and healthcare-related factors. Although home death is sometimes considered a potential ...

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Evaluating genetic counseling for family members of individuals with schizophrenia in the molecular age Schizophrenia Bulletin


Myths and concerns about the extent and meaning of genetic risk in schizophrenia may contribute to significant stigma and burden for families. Genetic counseling has long been proposed to be a potentially informative and therapeutic ...

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A couple‐based intervention for patients and caregivers facing end‐stage cancer: outcomes of a randomized controlled trial Psycho‐Oncology


We evaluated the effect of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)[intervention (INT)], modified for the advanced cancer population versus standard care [control (CTL)], on marital functioning and psychosocial outcomes among distressed couples. EFT examines ...

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The impact of prophylactic salpingo‐oophorectomy on quality of life and psychological distress in women with a BRCA mutation Psycho‐Oncology


The objective of this study was to measure the impact of prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy on health-related quality of life and psychological distress in women...

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A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to manage affective symptoms and improve quality of life in gay men living with HIV Journal of Behavioral Medicine


To determine whether MBSR groups would help gay men living with HIV improve psychosocial functioning and increase mindfulness compared to treatment-as-usual (TAU)...

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Development and validation of a brief screening instrument for psychosocial risk associated with genetic testing: a pan-Canadian cohort study BMJ Open


A subgroup of patients undergoing genetic testing required added psychosocial support to facilitate adaptation to genetic/risk information. Busy genetic service providers can face challenges to identify these individuals and provide timely interventions or referrals.

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Communication of genetic test results to family and health-care providers following disclosure of research results Genetics in Medicine


Few studies have examined methods to promote communication following the return of DNA mismatch repair genetic test results obtained during research. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate a telephone protocol for returning research results of DNA mismatch repair gene testing to identify Lynch syndrome.

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Behavioral Adjustment in Individuals Receiving Genetic Test Results in Lynch Syndrome Clinical Genetics


Behavioral Adjustment in Individuals Receiving Genetic Test Results in Lynch Syndrome

100 years Lynch Syndrome: What have we learned about psychosocial issues? Familial Cancer Familial Cancer


100 years Lynch Syndrome: What have we learned about psychosocial issues? Familial Cancer

Exploring the influence of gender-role socialization and objectified body consciousness on body image in breast cancer survivors Psycho-oncology


Exploring the influence of gender-role socialization and objectified body consciousness on body image in breast cancer survivors

A multicenter study of supportive-expressive group therapy for women with BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations Cancer, 101


A multicenter study of supportive-expressive group therapy for women with BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations.

Increasing Interest and Demand? Is Our System Well-Enough Prepared for Policy Change? Health Paper


There is new debate and attention in our thinking concerning physician-assisted death. It is likely that a change in policy is forthcoming. The issue of physician-assisted death cannot be understood apart from considering current models of healthcare and the role of adequate supportive care and psychosocial support.

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The BRCA Self-Concept Scale: a new instrument to measure self-concept in BRCA1/2 mutation carriers The BCN News


Genetic testing for BRCA1/2 has psychosocial impacts including those related to views of personal health, sense of self and identity and body image. The objective of the study was to develop and validate a scale to measure the self-concept among individuals testing positive for BRCA1/2 mutations.

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