Q&A with Cara Vaccarino, The Royal's new President & CEO

Meet The Royal's new President & CEO! 

Cara Vaccarino

In January, The Royal welcomed Cara Vaccarino as President & CEO. We asked her to reflect on her first six months in the role.

Q: Why did you decide to join The Royal?

CV: The Royal is an amazing organization that exemplifies many of the values that I hold very close to my heart: patient and family centred care, community, research excellence. Coming here, I knew that I would be joining a team of passionate people who care a lot and who really want to make a difference. Since I have joined, that is exactly what I have experienced – and more! There is such incredible dedication, drive, innovation, and compassion within this organization. It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be part of The Royal’s future.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in mental health care?

CV: Mental health has impacted my family in significant and sometimes tragic ways. Unfortunately, I know I am not unique.  I imagine most of the people reading this could say the same thing. My decision to pursue a career in mental health care boils down my belief that we all deserve help, and that I can help.  

My clinical background is in social work.  I call myself a lifelong social worker – it’s at the very core of my being. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that individuals with mental health and substance use challenges can get the support and all the tools they need to recover and to achieve their goals.  

I’ve been blessed to have a career where I have been able to work directly with individual patients and families - being part of their personal journeys – and then grow into leadership roles where I have been able to work with amazing teams to bring about big, positive change for whole communities.  All of this has fueled my passion for mental health care and I continue to be inspired everyday by the patients, families and colleagues that I get to work with.  

Q: What are The Royal's greatest strengths?

CV: The Royal’s number one strength is our brilliant team! Everyone here – from clinicians to researchers to support staff - cares so much and is deeply dedicated to helping people. They are also very highly skilled and possess an amazing spirit of innovation and collaboration. We believe in the philosophy that research is care, which opens up a world of discovery and new treatment opportunities for our patients. Adding to that, we are located in the capital city with an amazing community of partners across health care, industry, education, and government. We really have all the ingredients to lead the way in creating a better future for mental health care in Ottawa and globally.

Q: Can you share any upcoming initiatives or projects for the coming year?

CV: I am so excited about our future!  Since I joined The Royal a few months ago, I have been talking to as many of our brilliant staff and physicians as I can. I’ve also had great conversations with our patients and families - who have such valuable lived expertise - as many of our partners. They have all given me incredible insight about where we need to go and together we are laying a path for an incredible future. 

Over the next year and beyond, we will be working to improve access and care across our community including for people who need services urgently and often have nowhere else to go. The Royal has an integral role to play within Ottawa’s mental health system. I am committed to working closely with our hospital and community mental health partners to build a more effective system to take better care of more people.

We are also going to ensure that the latest research-driven innovative treatments are available at the point of care as we continue to drive discovery, leveraging the incredible technology at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre to enable more effective, personalized treatments.

Q: What role do you see philanthropy playing in advancing The Royal's mission?

CV: The generosity of this community is so important to The Royal. We have bold and exciting plans to accelerate care through research and help more people easily access effective, personalized care. Unfortunately, mental health research and care are critically underfunded and as a result, it can be a long and difficult path to create innovative new treatments and make them readily accessible to our patients – we call this the mental health gap. The Royal is committed to closing the mental health gap so more people can get better care right away, but we cannot do it alone. Philanthropy will play a huge role in creating a better future for mental health.

Q: What do you think of Ottawa so far? 

CV: I am really enjoying Ottawa (it’s so sunny here!). I knew that I was going to love my new job but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the city so quickly. It’s a really great community with lots going on. I’ve joined a yoga studio, I’m joining a cycling club, and I’ve tried lots of great restaurants. I’m looking forward to the summer with all the festivals and markets!