Confronting COVID misinformation

I would like to address the online video promoting false views on the devastating consequences of the pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in which a College of Medicine Clinical Professor plays a leading role.

I first became aware of this video early yesterday afternoon but due to many obligations including attending last evening’s provincial Physician Town Hall I was unable to review the video until last evening. I must say the 90 minutes spent reviewing it in detail was some of the most distressing time I have spent in the last 18 months of this long and difficult pandemic.

I categorically state that I and the College of Medicine do not endorse the content of the video that questions the very existence and severity of this pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, as well as the many conspiracy theories and assertions cast at many incredible people and valued institutions in our country and around the world.

On behalf of the College of Medicine I sincerely apologize to all those people who have suffered the ravages of this awful disease and those who continue to suffer. I apologize to the families of over 500 people in Saskatchewan who have died from COVID-19.

I am also thinking of all the front-line heath care workers including our medical students and residents, our medical faculty and our partners at the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and regret the promulgation of these views by a person associated with the College of Medicine.

To our learners and to the public I want to reassure you that none of this content or the views expressed are part of our curriculum. In fact, the pandemic has taught us the importance of teaching ways in which physicians can effectively counter false information in delivering healthcare in a sensitive and patient centred manner.

I do acknowledge that individuals have the right to express their personal opinions on any topic within certain limitations set by our society and the law. In the context of a university, I want to emphasize the importance of academic freedom for university faculty and the absolute need for the protection of faculty to freely communicate in the areas of their scholarly work. This is particularly important where that scholarly work is supported by recognized credentials and expertise.

In that regard I also am thinking of the credibility of the many qualified and credentialled experts on COVID-19 we have in the College of Medicine and across our entire campus in the fields of Virology, Microbiology, Vaccinology, Epidemiology, Public Health, and Infectious Diseases. Know that the College of Medicine supports and depends on your expertise.

Another area of expertise for which Saskatchewan is increasingly recognized is physician leadership and nearly all of the great physician leaders at the SHA that have led us through this pandemic also have medical faculty appointments in the College of Medicine. I know how disheartening the promotion of false information about COVID-19 must be.

All of these scientists and physician leaders have worked long and hard alongside our learners, physicians and allied healthcare workers over the last 18 months to fight this pandemic by promoting the best evidence and best practices to care for our people and protect this great province. I thank all of you.

At this stage of the pandemic our highest priority must be the vaccination of the vast majority of our population. Yesterday was also the day I received my second dose of the vaccine at the drive-thru at Prairieland Park. I marveled at the dedication, caring, and efficiency of those front-line workers. Thank you. At the College of Medicine, it is incumbent on all of us to promote vaccination to our patients, colleagues, friends, neighbours and the public at large.

In that regard I would like to draw your attention to a few examples of people within our college who have been instrumental in this work with the important proviso to acknowledge there are many, many others doing equally valuable work.

I would like to point out the amazing work on public education by Drs. Cory Neudorf, Nazeem Muhajarine, Alex Wong, Joseph Blondeau and Hassan Masri in endless interviews, public presentations and social media posts. I also acknowledge the amazing work done by the team at Morning Star Lodge, led by Dr. Carrie Bourassa, that has been working since the very beginning of the pandemic to serve Indigenous communities to address misinformation. They and many others at the College of Medicine have consistently provided accurate, reliable, evidence-based information on the pandemic and the vaccines for the public.

In terms of evidence, I would like to recognize Drs. Gary Groot and Bruce Reeder, as well as the USask and SHA librarians, graduate students and many others who have constantly researched in real time the rapidly evolving evidence accumulated by experts around the world to guide our clinicians and decision makers. They are currently embarking on the research to guide the care of people with “long COVID” – a challenge that will be with us for years to come.

I would like to recognize the amazing work done by our Medical Health Officers at the SHA and Dr. Saqib Shahab, our Chief Medical Health Officer, in guiding policy and providing the incredible but challenging day to day work of Public Health in a pandemic. This is what they trained for and hoped never to have to do! These MHOs are members of our Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and teach in our medical doctor program and Public Health and Preventative Medicine residency program.

Our Division of Continuing Medical Education led by Dr Jim Barton has provided an incredibly important role in partnership with the SHA in supporting the Physician Town Halls which have been very popular and instructive, various events and seminars on COVID-19 and the upskilling of 105 physicians to ensure we have all of the physicians the SHA needs to staff emergency rooms, COVID wards and intensive care units.

Finally, while noting I am leaving out many other heroes, I want to emphasize the incredible asset we have in Saskatchewan at the University of Saskatchewan in VIDO, and the ground-breaking work there in vaccinology, including our own COVID-19 vaccine currently in testing.

These people and many others at the College of Medicine and the University of Saskatchewan are the experts in the fields of virology, microbiology, vaccinology, epidemiology, public health, infectious diseases and healthcare leadership. These are the people we will turn to for guidance and expertise as we continue to care for our people through this most challenging time.

Let’s all continue our efforts to promote vaccination in Saskatchewan so that we can all wear that sticker that says, “I STUCK IT TO COVID.”

Interim accreditation review another critical milestone for the CoM

An incredible amount of work has been underway on accreditation of our Undergraduate Medical Education program since our successful 2017 full-site visit and our official results from that visit, received in 2018. This is, of course, because accreditation requires an ongoing, continuous improvement approach that ideally informs and supports how we work every day.

For the UGME program, while our results from 2017 were strong and very encouraging, there remained substantial work and commitment from our team to build the program back from the significant accreditation challenges of the past. This work was by no means completed in 2017. At the same time, programs must always be advancing and improving in line with changes in health care and health care education. So there is no opportunity to “rest on our laurels” when it comes to accreditation and in becoming the excellent medical school which we aspire to be.

And that is as it should be, given the importance of a strong medical education program, and a strong Saskatchewan medical school!

With this blog, I want to highlight the UGME interim accreditation review, which marks the halfway point of our eight-year accreditation cycle as we prepare for our next full-site accreditation review in 2026. This interim review will inform our ongoing work, and the results will not be released to the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS). They will be provided to the leadership of the College of Medicine.

Many of you who support and are key stakeholders in the UGME program have been assisting our amazing UGME accreditation team of Dr. Athena McConnell, director quality and accreditation, and Pat Williamson, accreditation specialist. As many are aware, Athena is also interim provincial head of the Department of Pediatrics, supporting our college in another important capacity at this time. And in light of that, I do want to highlight the work and diligence Pat is managing in her role to support our important accreditation review and continuous quality improvement work.

Thank you to Pat, Athena, UGME leadership and staff, and numerous others throughout the college  who have been working on gathering the necessary documentation for the review for the past 18 months. Another big thank you to everyone else involved in supporting and informing this work, with a special mention to the faculty and students who participated in our Medical School Self Study Working Groups and worked diligently for over a year providing valuable feedback! The preliminary review and rating of the documentation by these working groups flagged several areas that are at risk, and many of the suggested improvements are already underway.

The interim accreditation review is taking place October 4-5, 2021, and will be overseen by an external reviewer and Athena, as well as a committee of internal reviewers, including faculty and students. The review team will be deciding on which key stakeholders they need to meet with this summer to ask important questions about how the program is functioning. This will likely include but is not limited to: college level leaders, UGME leaders, residents and students.

The review team will provide their results in October or November of this year, informing our work as we continue to improve our UGME program and prepare for our full site visit in the spring of 2026. As accreditation goes, and given the complexities and many support structures involved in UGME, that is not a long time away.

In other college accreditation news, the Division of Continuing Medical Education had a resoundingly successful accreditation report earlier this year and the School of Rehabilitation Science is awaiting its report from a very well-executed accreditation visit in March.

Our college is fully accredited across all our programs. Accreditation is a huge team commitment and effort, and beyond our commitment to meet those requirements, we aspire to a higher level of excellence to be the medical school our province deserves and the world needs.

Saskatchewan CaRMS match outcomes solid

May 20 marked the second iteration of the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS) match for 2021—a time fraught with excitement and stress for our graduating medical doctor students. They have worked hard to get to this point, and the match is a huge step on their path to becoming practicing physicians, marking their entrance into their residency training. “Match day,” as it is known simply in medical circles, is when these students find out the program and location where they will be spending the next two to five years of their training as residents, though it is really two days as it happens over two iterations.

Beyond our learners, the match is a tremendous amount of work each year for our residency programs and our teams in the undergraduate and postgraduate offices. I do thank everyone for all the hard work again this year.

With this blog, I want to share a bit about our results as a college and province. There are two sides to every CaRMS match: the outcomes for our college’s graduating class of medical doctor students who match to programs here in Saskatchewan and elsewhere (primarily in Canada), and the outcomes for our province and its postgraduate programs in securing new first-year residents from among the Canadian and international medical graduates who apply.

I’ll start with how our Saskatchewan residency programs fared. We had 124 first-year Ministry of Health funded residency positions available in programs across the province and all of these positions are filled. Among these, 48 are in family medicine programs in locations across the province and 24 are in internal medicine in Saskatoon and Regina. The rest are spread across a number of other specialty areas, primarily in Saskatoon and Regina.

These 124 first year residents start their residency training on July 1, as both learners and care providers for our province. Among the 124 positions, 46 Saskatchewan graduates, 39 non-Saskatchewan Canadian graduates, and 39 international graduates join our programs this summer. We are thrilled to welcome all our new residents!

We typically have about half of our new residency positions filled by USask graduates and we will be looking at this and working to increase this for next and future years, as we do hope to recruit as many of our USask graduates to residency programs here as we can.

Among our Saskatchewan medical doctor graduates, 102 out of 106 who applied for the CaRMS match, matched to a program in either the first or second iteration, with 96 matching in the first iteration and six in the second. This is a reasonable result, comparable to other years. For those learners who are unmatched, this is a very difficult time, and our team provides support and assists with their next steps. These may involve reapplying to the 2022 CaRMS match if eligible, and for those completing their fourth year of the MD program, our college offers a fifth year of study that further prepares these learners for the following year’s match.

I do hope that all our learners take advantage of the support offered by our college for all involved in this year’s match. Our undergraduate and postgraduate offices, including their student affairs and wellness teams, not to mention our residency programs, provide significant support for this big transition from undergraduate to postgraduate medical training.

Congratulations to our programs, our UGME and PGME teams, and especially to our medicine graduates and all new residents joining the College of Medicine!

Sunshine and safety at start of new fiscal year

We’ve made it through a long, tough and highly unusual winter. As the days grow warmer and the hours of sunshine expand here in Saskatchewan, I wanted to reach out to our full College of Medicine team, and beyond, to offer some words of support and encouragement as we continue to work our way through this pandemic. I hope you are finding ways to enjoy the sun and fresh air. While we are still battling COVID-19, we have made it through another battle of winter in Saskatchewan and are well on our way to summer.

I’ve talked a lot over the past year—through this blog and at all kinds of online meetings—about the great work and perseverance of our team through these challenging times. And I want to say it again: we would be nowhere as a college without the work, not to mention the spirit and heart, of our team of learners, staff and faculty. Although our work and learning have changed in many ways, we’ve made it this far, and we’ve done that through great teamwork and support of one another.

So kudos to our whole team!

Now, I hope you have either received a COVID-19 vaccination or are watching for your earliest opportunity to get one. And while focusing on that, please also stay focused on safety and continuing with all public health requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As many know, we are well into planning for convocation on June 3. We will, of course, be celebrating our graduates virtually again this year – but are no less excited and happy for you on your great achievement! You are completing your degree after a year that can’t be compared to any before it and, while not as you might have planned it, your achievement is both impressive and unique. Congratulations to all our CoM graduates: the MD Class of 2021 and all those completing graduate studies programs.

With May 1, we began a new fiscal year, and our college and university will be operating with stable funding levels from the province. While budgets will be tight and we must find ways to be efficient as costs rise and resources stay level, given everything happening in the world and in Canada, this is positive and encouraging news for our college’s continued efforts as leaders in improving the health and well-being of the people of Saskatchewan and the world.

I have a number of topics planned for upcoming blogs before the summer. Among these is a recap of how our programs and learners faired through this past year’s CaRMS match, which is not completed until the second iteration of the match, coming up on May 20. I also plan to share some thoughts and reminders of work underway now that underpins the success of our Undergraduate Medical Education program, as we approach our UGME accreditation interim review this fall. The interim review marks the mid-point in our current eight-year accreditation review timeframe. It is already almost four years since our highly successful 2017 accreditation visit! We must keep that incredible momentum and success going through this next and all subsequent reviews.

We will share more information on all the great work that has been going on for quite some time to develop a Division of Indigenous Health, including a survey many of you participated in earlier this year to help inform that work. And the results of our CoM EDI survey, currently underway (make sure you complete the survey, with two links provided here to make it easy for you!) will be shared here in my blog once available.

On the research side of things, I hope to share some information with you outlining the important role of our CoM researchers in work done at the USask Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, or VIDO. We are so fortunate to have access to this incredible facility, and for our faculty to play such an important role there as medical researchers.

As always, there is a lot going on in our college, and as a team we have kept everything moving forward effectively despite the changes and hurdles we’ve had to overcome during this pandemic. Once again, I thank you for all your work.

We are ready!

Guest blog by Dr. Teresa Paslawski, Associate Dean, School of Rehabilitation Science

An incredible amount of time and effort has gone into preparation for our Master of Physical Therapy program accreditation site visit, being held virtually at the end of March. The accreditation process is robust, and by its conclusion the four-person review team will have assessed our detailed self-study report and hosted more than 20 meetings over a four-day period. This process takes an extraordinary amount of time and commitment from a very large and dedicated group of people and I am happy to say that thanks to everyone on our team, we are prepared!

To all 102 participants involved in this process, thank you for your commitment to our program and all of the hard work you have put in to prepare for the virtual visit, your pride in the quality program we offer is evident. This would not be possible without your dedication and support.

To our accreditation team, who led the charge, collected content, and organized meetings- quite frankly, you are awesome! I could not have asked for a more dedicated team. A special thank you to Cathy Arnold, SRS Director, currently on sabbatical, for her leadership of our program and her leadership role in the preparations for the accreditation self-study and virtual visit.

To our faculty, staff, students, and key stakeholders who have supported the accreditation process and set us up for success, I offer my sincere thanks.

Accreditation is a six-year cycle of assessment, evaluation, and opportunity for improvement, and as such, we strive continually to improve our program. Considerable effort has gone into refining our admissions criteria and selection processes to better support student success in the program and in the Physiotherapy Competency Exam. Additionally, our faculty’s individual research programs contribute new evidence-based findings that inform teaching and allow for novel research opportunities for interested students.

This past year presented unique challenges for all of us. For our MPT program, the move to online delivery of coursework and considerable modifications to face-to-face instruction led to unavoidable stresses on our learners, staff, and faculty. As a school I believe we maintained the high standards of the MPT program while still prioritizing wellness among the students, staff and faculty. And while planned changes to the MPT curriculum were necessarily dramatically altered in the face of the pandemic, through collaboration, reflection, and hard work we have identified positive and inventive ways to elevate our program even further!

Among many other things, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted systemic racism around the world, including here in Canada. Ensuring our MPT students are educated about the past and the continuing effects of colonization and intergenerational trauma is a priority for us. Preparing our students to practice reconciliation in their care is paramount. Through our connections with community partners and Elders we are incorporating community-driven experiences and knowledge into our teaching and, where possible, offering real-life engagement with Indigenous communities to our students. We are proud of the steps taken to combat racial inequalities in our School and communities by our Indigenous Engagement Working Group, but we recognize that there is still much to do. We look forward to working closely with our college, university, and community partners in advancing anti-racism and meaningful allyship.

Thank you again to each and every person involved in the accreditation process. We anticipate learning the results of our hard work later this summer. Thank you for your commitment to our program and your pride in our achievements. As a team we have risen to the occasion, and as your Associate Dean I am very proud to say, we are prepared!

Please take a moment to watch this video highlighting our beautiful campus and the facilities available to our MPT program.

Have a voice in post-pandemic planning

We are fast approaching a full year since our college and university swiftly shifted to remote learning and work. I continue to be amazed and impressed by our team’s resiliency and commitment. Now, as we begin to contemplate what a return to our workplace will look like post-pandemic, we have the opportunity to put some thought into how we work, and the many things we have learned this past year.

I hope you will take part in the USask work to plan our return, the Post-Pandemic Shift Project. An opportunity to participate in this work was provided in an email from President Peter Stoicheff last week. This first step is to answer one simple question from your perspective and based on your preferences and ideas. If you haven’t already done this, you can answer that question at this survey link.

Our college will be guided by the university’s work in this area for our campus-based activities. Of course, on the clinical side of our work, as always those in these settings will need to be aware of changes and requirements in the clinical setting now and going forward.

While this has been a challenging and difficult time unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, it has given us some opportunities to rethink our approach to how we work from many angles, including efficiency and flexibility.

Also helping to inform next steps was the second pandemic survey, issued in late 2020. The results of that survey show that our overall engagement results are quite favorable, and given the many challenges we are living through, this is great news. A really positive area for us is that 77% of those from the CoM who responded to the survey indicated their people leader cares about them as a person. This is a really great measure for supporting the engagement of our team and for creating a positive work environment.

In this second survey we are continuing to see that people would like a combination of working remotely and at the office/on campus in the future. Broad themes included under what USask has done well in response to COVID-19 include ongoing communication and updates campus-wide, the careful and thoughtful response that prioritized the safety of employees and students, and the efforts in supporting and accommodating the needs of staff, learners and faculty. Survey respondents indicated that they would like more clarity and detail on what the post-pandemic USask will look like and to have ongoing support and assistance (financial and otherwise) for remote work.

While overall participation was down somewhat compared to the first survey, it was still good and will help guide planning. I would encourage you to visit the website and participate in the above Post-Pandemic Shift Project survey so that your voice is included as we plan together for the future at our college and university.

As we work with the university on post-pandemic plans, we will continue to keep you informed.

Black History Month, books, and February in Saskatchewan

In a number of blogs over the years, I have talked about what I am reading and in return many of you have been generous in sharing books you have found inspiring and/or entertaining. As part of an annual goal-setting exercise, I plan to read 25 books this year—I read a lot, just not fast!

But usually this time of year is when I get the most reading done, and so far I have read four books: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling et al, on how the world is actually improving in many ways; Morality, by Jonathan Sachs, a work of moral philosophy; Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearnes Goodwin, a comparative history of the leadership of four American presidents; and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson, which as written on the cover, is about “how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.” It certainly has been a bit of a whiplash reading experience, through some of the great things and horrible things of our world and the human condition.

I think it is really important I recognize Black History Month, and share with you how very educational and very moving it’s been to read the latter two books at this time. Two of the American presidents covered by Goodwin are Abraham Lincoln, known of course for his leadership in the Civil War, and Lyndon B. Johnson, known for his failures in the Vietnam War and, less so, for his role in pushing through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Like many famous leaders, he was a complex man.

Wilkerson’s book, Caste, is very compelling, though a tough read throughout. As she points out, Black American scholars have been writing about caste in America since the 1930s, and she builds a brilliant case for the idea that individual and systemic racism are both based on a very deeply embedded ranking of the value of people on the basis of their color. This other line from the cover describes it well: “Beautifully written, original and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a re-examination of what lies under the surface of American life today.”

While I highly recommend this book, I reminded myself throughout that Canadians can claim no advantage when it comes to racism, prejudice and bias as shown by what we have done and continue to do to Indigenous and Black people, and other people of colour, in Canada. In only the past week, we have seen a racist incident within our university campus directed at Muslim students during an online meeting, and in a Saskatoon restaurant directed at Asian people working there.

The other book I am reading in installments is One Story, One Song, a collection of short stories by the late Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway man from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He is probably best known for the novel Indian Horse which was made into a film of the same name. I have heard Val Arnault-Pelletier, CoM Indigenous Coordinator, use the following Richard Wagamese quote many times:

“All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…”

So finally, February in Saskatchewan. As a colleague in the Ministry of Advanced Education said yesterday, “Wow, winter has officially flexed its muscles.” There is no better time of the year to curl up with a good book and learn other peoples’ stories. By reading others’ stories and sharing our own, “we change the world.”

Take care! Remember, with the COVID-19 variants now with us, the basics—distance, masks, stay in your bubble, and wash your hands—are more important than ever. And keep warm!

Continuing our commitment to EDI

In this blog, I want to share more information about our plans and next steps for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the CoM. It’s an incredibly important focus for our college that requires our full commitment and effort now, and always. If we truly want to be the college of our values and principles, and we truly want to achieve our vision and mission, we must make changes to ensure there is real equity of opportunity, diversity across our full team, and respect for one another.

About three years ago, we established our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Working Group, composed of 16 individuals including the group’s chair, Chief Operating Officer Greg Power. Given the passage of time, we want to open that group up to others from among our staff, faculty and learners once again, from all corners of our college. In the next few weeks, I will be emailing all students, faculty and staff in the college inviting your interest. Current members of the group can also choose to remain and have been already communicated with in this regard.

This group will be using the soon-to-be-released USask EDI Strategy and Action Plan to develop a strategy specific for the College of Medicine.

Last year, we hired Dr. Erin Prosser-Loose as the college’s senior EDI specialist. She is developing an EDI web page for the college, and beyond, filled with information and resources that will go live in the next few weeks. We will share that new page link with you through E-News and social media as soon as it is live.

Erin is also leading development of a new CoM EDI survey to be issued this spring. It will serve multiple purposes:

  • baseline of where we’re at regarding representation of marginalized members of the college
  • perceptions of an inclusive culture
  • demographic data needed for accreditation

Data collected from this survey will allow our college and the D&I Working Group to focus our initiatives and resources. We will repeat the survey periodically to monitor progress and to ensure our accountability in areas where we are not improving. Findings will be reported college-wide and department-level data will be shared with respective departments, supporting their improvements, as well. Some departments have formed their own EDI committees or have EDI representatives, and the survey data will help inform their activities. Senior leaders of our college will review, discuss and plan improvements, based on the survey data. Significant power to implement change rests with this group.

Of course, I want to emphasize in advance that the survey will be anonymous, with strict methods in place to ensure no individuals can be identified, including setting a reporting requirement of a minimum of five respondents for each potentially identifying category (e.g., racialized people).

These are the next steps our college is taking over the next few months, of an ongoing commitment to EDI. As I’ve mentioned before in my blog and at various meetings, I and our college is committed to being a leader in medical education in this area.

I will continue, through my blog and other venues, to inform you of our ongoing work.

A few other important reminders:

  • If you have not done so already, be certain to complete the Cultural Safety/Competence Survey, which will inform the invaluable work of the Indigenous Health Committee in creating an appropriate and functional Indigenous health structure within the College of Medicine.
  • On February 12, USask On Campus News and our college will share a profile of Dr. Manuela Valle-Castro, director of the Division of Social Accountability, on our websites and social media channels. Manuela brings incredible expertise to our college, the work of that division and our ongoing work in antiracism and EDI.
  • The School of Rehabilitation Science (SRS), which resides within our college as most know, is holding a full accreditation visit March 29 to April 2, 2021. The team in SRS is working hard to prepare for that important milestone. Watch for more news on this and the school in the coming weeks and months.

We continue to work through the challenges of COVID-19 in 2021. I do hope all are staying well and staying safe through these difficult times.

Putting a tough year behind us

With 2020 coming to a close, it’s safe to say most are ready to bid farewell to a year that has been unlike any other. But there are things worth recalling about the two major issues of 2020, as they will inform much of our focus in 2021.

These issues were global and all-consuming stories in 2020. COVID-19 was the first. I’ll start by touching on the second: the increased focus in the news of 2020 on racism. This issue was brought even more to the forefront by pandemic-related injustices experienced by minority groups and those with the least ability to protect themselves from the virus, and the continuing incidences of police violence against Indigenous and Black people here and in the United States. In Canada, the tragedy of the late Joyce Echaquan’s terrible, racist treatment in our own healthcare system must result in change that moves us toward eliminating racism and improving care for Indigenous people in Canada.

I have already stated my commitment and intent that our college will be a leader in medical education in Canada in antiracism and equity, diversity and inclusion. We have made some advances in recent years that I have touched on in previous blogs, and in recent months there have been more focused and intentional conversations about the changes needed between those most affected and our college leaders. But as I’ve said before, we have a lot more to do. Watch for more from me on this in the New Year.

The pandemic has affected all aspects of our work and lives since last March. The response of our college, university and health system in managing the many challenges and necessary changes in how we go about our daily lives was remarkable. It was not perfect, of course, but nothing is. Together, we were on a steep learning curve while rapidly implementing change across large and complex systems. I continue to be particularly impressed by how the people of our university and college came together, and continue working together, to support and protect one another during this frightening and uncertain time.

That said, even as we put 2020 behind us, we cannot put our vigilance and diligence with regard to safety and COVID-19 behind us yet. The numbers in Saskatchewan and across Canada are not good. We can see light at the end of this long tunnel in the form of vaccines that are beginning to reach us now—a remarkable discovery science achievement we also must recall and appreciate about 2020 and the worldwide response to this pandemic. (See this story of the researcher who gambled her life’s work on her belief in the potential of messenger RNA—such an incredible example of why we must fund and commit to discovery research.)

But it will be several months before we reach a true tipping point where we have beaten this virus. So the tenets of 2020 do not change now, nor will they until we are well into 2021, at the earliest. These reminders are taken verbatim from the Saskatchewan Health Authority website:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Maintain physical distancing.
  • Keep your bubble small.
  • Stay home if sick.
  • Get tested.
  • Follow public health orders.
  • Anticipate situations that put you at risk and avoid them.

Many of us are heading into a two-week break after this week. Let us remember our colleagues on the front lines of care over the holidays and do all in our power to ensure we don’t add to their work. We can do our part by (at a minimum) following all current and upcoming public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Stay safe and well over this holiday season.

Facing and fighting racism in healthcare and medical education

Today I had the privilege to be part of a national meeting, Urgent Meeting to Address Racism Experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s Health Care Systems, organized by Indigenous Services Canada. There were nearly 400 participants. This profoundly powerful meeting was precipitated by the videos of the racism during medical care experienced by Joyce Echaquan prior to her death.

What was evident from the moving testimony of the many panelists was that this racism continues every day in every jurisdiction in our healthcare and health education systems. The most compelling testimony was that of the family of Joyce Echaquan. Panelists included many Indigenous physicians, medical students, nurses, and other healthcare professions as well as Indigenous leaders. A significant number of the speakers were from Saskatchewan, including Dr. Veronica McKinney from our faculty, and Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations.

The content of this discussion brought to mind a Harvard-Kennedy School course I just finished, Leadership and Character in Uncertain Times. From that course, one message particularly stands out in the context of today’s meeting: “Mobilizing people with history – acknowledging that people have a historically proven basis for fear and trauma is crucially important to activism. History informs and validates the sense of injustice people feel in the present.”

Many of the accounts today were profound and painful. I have been in healthcare education and care for more than 40 years and sadly I knew they are true. When I first heard the story of Brian Sinclair, I could instantly visualize him sitting in a wheelchair and abandoned in an ER waiting room. When I heard the news of Joyce Echaquan, I did not need to see this video to imagine the racism she experienced while in care. We must improve and we must acknowledge and combat racism at all levels.

The accounts of racism experienced in receiving healthcare in today’s meeting were disturbing and unacceptable. Another area of grave concern for our medical school is racism experienced in medical education. The Indigenous medical students and graduates of our Canadian medical schools describe medical school as a traumatizing experience. Today one Indigenous physician told us she has a daughter in medical school and described seeing her daughter facing the same biases and discrimination she faced.

As part of our role in Justice for Joyce and for Indigenous people here and throughout Canada I am asking every member of our college to commit to anti-racism.