Wellness: we must support one another

This week, the CoM hosted its fifth annual senior leadership retreat. Every year, we delve into a discussion of one of our strategic directions to assess how we are doing and plan next steps. This year we focused on wellness.

I witnessed engagement and keen interest among my colleagues in leadership in this vitally important focus for our whole CoM team. While the day held some hard conversations, they were not hard in the sense of dissension on the value and importance of wellness as a key area of attention. This was wonderful to see as we will need teamwork and alignment to move forward effectively on this front.

So, why wellness now? Most, if not all of us, have been impacted by wellness—our own or that of others in our lives—and I think we share a common understanding of how dramatic the consequences can become when we, or someone we know, is increasingly unwell. What many fail to acknowledge or address is an inherent resistance to being open, or vulnerable, about our own struggles.

I believe the many resources I will share in this blog are useful to all, though several focus specifically on physicians and medical learners. There is no shortage of data on the wellness challenges inherent in medical practice. Wellness, however, is an issue for us all. For the scientist waiting for the results of a grant application, or seeking a potential cure or treatment that could benefit so many and yet not knowing where the process of discovery will ultimately lead. For the graduate student who must work hard for opportunities even while facing significant uncertainty in future employment. For the employee trying to support the needs of researchers, professors, physicians, learners, other staff members, partners and stakeholders.

I included in my February 8 blog a quote from Jordin Tootoo that, “We all fight a fight no one knows about.” One of the strongest messages from our day is this: it is courageous to be vulnerable. We can support one another in this with kindness and compassion.

What exactly do we mean by wellness? We had help from four experts in this regard, who set the stage for our team to have a meaningful discussion. On behalf of our team at the retreat, I acknowledge and thank: Peter Hedley, Director of Student Support and Services, who leads USask wellness initiatives; our own Drs. Anita Chakravarti, Department of Medicine and Alana Holt, Department of Psychiatry; and Brenda Senger, Director, Physician Support Programs at the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

Peter shared details of our university’s work and evolving approach on wellness, guided by the University of Saskatchewan Wellness Strategy, which offers a holistic approach of “healthy mind, healthy body, healthy life.” Through the strategy, USask has committed to comprehensive programming across wellness promotion, prevention and intervention.

Brenda spoke about these wellness elements: physical, spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, occupational, environmental and financial. The culture of medicine has tended to reward traits such as control, perfectionism, and high dedication to others built on principles of patients coming first; the pressures associated with this culture can and does strain individual wellness in relation to these elements.

The CMA National Physician Health Survey provides a snapshot of the current environment for our physicians. On the positive side, a significant number of the 3,000 CMA members who responded demonstrated resilience, psychological well-being, and, overall, flourishing mental health. However, the survey also shares stark information of burnout, depression and suicidal ideation (this last particularly among residents, so we need to continue with the good work we are already doing to support our residents while considering what else might be needed).

There is too much evidence of both individual and system level factors that are contributing to distress and moral injury, as the 2018 study, Physician burnout: contributors, consequences and solutions, shows us. If our physicians are unwell, patient care and the health care system cannot help but suffer too.

Background information for the CMA Policy on Physician Health highlights that poor health for physicians may develop before or during training and persist into medical practice. As Saskatchewan’s medical school, we set the foundations for success for physicians through the training and environment we establish for our learners. More broadly, we will support everyone in our CoM community—faculty, staff and learners—with improvements in how we support wellness.

For all of us in attendance at the retreat, an important takeaway (highlighted by the likes of health leadership expert Dr. John Van Aerde) is that leadership, engagement and trust are successful when we have a psychologically safe environment where we limit distrust, moral distress and burnout.

We can ensure a culture of wellness in many ways, and we are already moving along this path. Our five-year strategic plan highlights how we are currently supporting wellness:

  • In our Quality education strategic direction, we emphasize safe, effective and learner-focused environments and carry that through the design of our medical education programming and leadership development programs.
  • In our Faculty engagement strategic direction, we will maximize faculty participation in planning and decision-making, and in how we foster a culture of engagement, work satisfaction and academic success.
  • In our Enablers strategic direction, we aim to recruit and retain great leaders, professors, researchers, physicians, students and staff, while ensuring safe, respectful workplaces and a culture of lifelong learning.

During the retreat, our experts and participants highlighted many other resources. We at the CoM all benefit from these strong programs and resources we offer now:

We can also do more to promote and leverage other programs and resources, such as:

A great framework from Drs. Tait Shanafelt and John Noseworthy, shared by Alana Holt, provides further useful information, with nine organizational strategies that can reverse the trend of burnout in health care organizations.

Our discussion throughout the day brought forward further suggestions that included, in keeping with the USask Wellness Strategy, that wellness programs and resources need to range from health promotion to crisis intervention. We have great supports in place, but we need to do more to integrate them. This would improve awareness and access, and support wellness more continuously across life transitions in education and careers. We need wellness embedded in our formal curriculum and supported through informal opportunities such as learning communities and mentorship programs. As well, we need to employ tactical strategies for promoting and sharing wellness resources through recruitment, in our orientation and onboarding materials, and so on.

Our participants identified steps they can take in their own departments and units, such as fostering spaces and times for peer connections and community building. Ideas shared included starting meetings with a wellness round-table discussion or check-in, hosting lunch time gatherings—yoga sessions, walking clubs, book clubs and more. There were also commitments offered to support one another in being vulnerable and honest about what we may be struggling with on a personal level.

As I said at the outset, our leadership team was engaged and active throughout the day!

Finally, I encourage you to consider your own wellness and how you can contribute to a culture of wellness. We can help one another on our wellness journey, we can reduce the stigma around seeking help, and we can permit ourselves to prioritize self-care.

As Jordan said, “It’s all about kindness.”

Collective discussion on diversity and inclusion

I hope you are all enjoying the early signs of spring as much as I am. (I saw someone running yesterday in shorts—hurray!)

I will get to my blog title, but want to first share a few words about things I have been doing over the past week. In a recent blog I talked about the development of a new biomedical science undergraduate program. That’s certainly exciting work, but we have great things happening in our current programming; for example, last week I spent some time viewing the research posters of our BMSC 210 (microbiology) students. As always, it was fascinating and I learned a lot, but more importantly I was inspired by the enthusiasm, energy, eloquence and creativity of our CoM students. It is always good to be reminded of why we are here.

This is the time of year when many of our programs, departments and other units showcase the research of our biomedical, graduate, medical and physical therapy students and our residents. I strongly encourage CoM (and other!) staff and faculty to attend these events, peruse the posters and listen to these learners present their work. You will be educated and inspired!

Now, getting to the topic of this blog: last week I attended a board meeting of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA). I took the opportunity to thank them for what they do for our learners and their keen interest in the College of Medicine. While there, I obtained a copy of the spring 2019 issue of SMA Digest. The theme is Celebrating our Diversity and I read the entire issue. The SMA is to be commended for their advocacy and the excellent journalism used to convey some really important messages.

I want to highlight a few of the articles in the SMA Digest. First, a superb story on our SMA president, Dr. Siva Karunakaran, a nephrologist originally from Sri Lanka who has lived and worked in Regina for the past 18 years. As I read about his early life, I thought we have some things in common: growing up on an island (PEI for me); being the first in the family to go into medicine; and spending high school mostly studying! But fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka was something I had no reference point for, other than one book (Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje) that remains vivid in my mind 15 years after reading it for the atrocities it described. Siva and his wife, Kumudhini, an infectious disease specialist, traveled a remarkable journey to be doctors in Saskatchewan. We are lucky to have them.

Among the many stories of Saskatchewan physicians and their families from diverse backgrounds and communities in the issue, one boldly and eloquently calls out the bias and prejudice our international medical graduate colleagues often face. Another emphasizes the prejudice and lack of “access to safe and sensitive medical care” faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I would like to draw your attention to an excellent article on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) website entitled Keeping our promise to LGBTQ+ patients. Some of the stories and data in that article about the bias and health disparities faced by members of this community are disturbing, and reminded me of very similar circumstances I witnessed in the late 80s. I was caring for the first three patients with AIDS in my community and was shocked when colleagues refused to see them in consultation. So while it is remarkable to see where science has brought us in the care of people with HIV since that time, it is sad to see this type of prejudice is still so prevalent.

The article goes on to emphasize that we must create “more welcoming learning environments for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and patients.” We must not tolerate instances of prejudice our LGBTQ+ learners still face in the classroom and clinical setting, no matter if they are subtle, shared in the form of a joke, or blatant and intentional. We address these incidents when they come to our attention with education, advice and coaching or with stronger interventions if necessary. We can directly act when we hear about these types of incidents, and on a daily basis we can, together, act to create a positive learning environment.

In addition, this article shares some information on medical curricula around North America on LGBTQ+ content. I have taken some time to look into our own curricular content. We are weaving curriculum through different courses and segments across not just medical expert content, but also in communication, clinical reasoning and advocacy/professionalism areas of our curriculum. Our undergraduate curriculum includes historical content, clinical case content, gender identity education, and sexual health sessions, as well as LGBTQ+ health as a component of preparation for residency. We are doing a lot of what the article suggests, but I would welcome input from our learners and faculty on how we are doing from your experience.

Going back to the SMA article, Dr. Francois Reitz says it well:

“From the training of new physicians to re-education of the older physicians like myself – I think if one provides a safe space, and if, regardless of your personal, political or religious beliefs, you treat all individuals with the respect they deserve and undertake to keep and maintain their integrity as human beings and not just another label, I think that is a huge step forward.”

The content in these great pieces underlines why diversity and inclusion across our students, staff, faculty and leaders is critically important for our college. In another of my recent blogs, I asked our CoM faculty and academic leaders for their help by taking a short survey—we need data to understand where we are today. If you haven’t already completed our survey (in your email inbox with the subject line: College of Medicine Faculty – Self-Identification Survey), please take the time to do so.

Finally, my thoughts are with our Muslim colleagues and learners at this difficult time following the tragic events in New Zealand. It is hard to believe we continue to grapple with this level of intolerance in 2019. It is clear we must do more, even as we continue to provide education and share messages supporting compassion, understanding and tolerance.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Many wins with engagement

Engagement in our work and our workplace goes well beyond just a win-win. In fact, to express the positive domino effect of individuals and teams fully engaged in what they are doing, I’d have to string “win” together too many times here to keep you engaged in this blog!

Engagement is key to both individual satisfaction and to the CoM’s success as a whole. It is among my own top priorities as dean, as I’ve mentioned previously.

We know we have work to do in this area at the CoM based on our results from the last USask employee engagement survey a few years ago. This time around, the survey is being distributed to our full staff and faculty complement, where previously it did not reach most of our medical faculty.

So, as you know from the messages from the university in your inbox recently, it’s time to take the survey and I encourage all our staff and faculty to do so. While it would be great to see better engagement numbers, more important is that you take a few minutes to include your voice so that your experience is reflected in the survey results. Your individual survey link was sent to you by email with the subject line “USask 2019 Employee Engagement Survey INVITATION.” The survey is open until March 12.

A lot of the focus placed on engagement is related to its role in higher productivity, or the benefits to the organization. That’s a great end result, but the reasons why engagement is important start well before that result is reached, at the individual level. Just reflect for a moment on something you do, whether at work or through a hobby, where you are so fully immersed that time (not to mention worry or stress) simply disappears. Not only is there pure joy in those moments, it is often where our best work is done.

Our leaders and supervisors have an important role in creating a positive work environment where engaged individuals and teams can thrive. In the past year, we have begun on a more defined path towards workplace engagement with our strategic plan and with the roll out of the new career engagement framework for administrative employees.

From our strategic plan, our vision and mission statements are something we all share a role in bringing to life, and in which we can all take pride. We’ve identified areas within our strategic directions of faculty engagement and enablers that directly and indirectly target engagement. Our plan can also provide us with a sense of what we each are contributing to in our individual roles on the CoM team.

For staff at the CoM, the implementation of the university’s new career engagement framework has included more professional development opportunities through lunch and learns, staff training sessions on things like using WebEx and Nuance PDF tools, and a workshop this week on workplace mental health and wellness. Within our strategic directions, retaining staff is a focus and will involve efforts that directly align with improved engagement.

For faculty, under our faculty engagement strategic direction, we’ve identified that we must enhance faculty involvement in CoM planning and decision making, and further develop alignment of our faculty within our One Faculty model. We need to better support and recognize our faculty in their work for the college. Gathering more data to ensure we understand from faculty what would improve their experience will be key in all our efforts, of course.

I believe we are moving in the right direction, but as I mentioned already, we have much more work to do to become a place where engagement is the norm. I welcome your thoughts and feedback, both here and through your responses to the employee engagement survey.

The CoM and our scientists

With this blog, I draw your attention to some important and exciting work being done by our scientists at the CoM. Their efforts directly contribute to growth and innovation in our research portfolio and their research is advancing care for patients and communities in Saskatchewan and beyond.

I have attended a number of meetings in the last few weeks focused on our ongoing work in restructuring our biomedical science departments and developing a new biomedical science degree program. I recently attended an excellent lecture in the BMI-PRISM Seminar series, delivered by Dr. Oleg Dmitriev, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology: Tracking the Shapeshifter: Domain Dynamics and Regulation of the Human Copper Transporter ATP7B. The third in this series that I’ve attended, I always find them fascinating and inspiring—even when my basic science knowledge gets pushed past its limits!

Our scientists have taken on the work of implementing significant changes that will benefit our students, college and university. I will share more in this vein, but first want to highlight why these graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and staff are fundamentally important to our success.

Recently I met with the CoM Graduate Student Society (CMGSS) and our Assistant Dean Graduate Studies, Dr. David Cooper. Now that was a frank discussion! And a healthy reminder to me and all of us that the CoM does a lot more than train doctors. Indeed, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are key drivers of our research enterprise and ultimately a big driver of our reputation. The public expects competent doctors, but to rise in U15 rankings we need outstanding research by biomedical and population health scientists as well as clinician researchers, and for that we need outstanding graduate students and research fellows.

The CoM currently has 196 graduate students in our biomedical sciences, population health and health sciences programs, 80 students in the School of Rehabilitation Science and 41 postdoctoral fellows. We created the position of Assistant Dean Graduate Studies and held the subsequent external reviews of our graduate programs to improve the graduate and postdoctoral experience at the CoM.

Some significant highlights related to this overarching goal include the restructuring of the CoMGRAD Scholarship and CoM-PDF fellowship programs to partner with faculty supervisors to both expand the number and value of the awards available to our research trainees. Advancing our commitments to diversity and inclusivity, the CoMGRAD program now includes targeted awards in the areas of Indigenous Health and Sex and Gender Equality in Research. In this same vein, we have established a Parental Leave Grant to help bridge a gap in support faced by graduate student families. Of course, there is always more to be done and I look forward to ongoing discussions with the CMGSS, which has highlighted the area of learner wellness as a priority.

Eight months ago, the five departments of Anatomy; Physiology; Pharmacology; Biochemistry; and Microbiology and Immunology became two departments: Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology (APP); and Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology (BMI). Dr. Thomas Fisher is the APP interim department head and Dr. Bill Roesler is the BMI interim department head. Currently, searches are underway for permanent heads, and thus I have been to lots of meetings with our biomedical scientists.

APP, BMI and the College of Arts and Science are collaborating on the major initiative of developing a new undergraduate degree program in biomedical sciences. We actually have more than 800 students enrolled in the four current biomedical science degree programs. CoM faculty teach more than half of the classes that follow the foundational classes in areas that include chemistry, physics, biology and math, which are taught by faculty in Arts and Science.

Few people understand the full scope of the work done at the CoM and the critical role of our scientists in preparing students for the health professions (especially medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine) or for graduate work and research careers.

Given the growth in the healthcare industry and the challenges it faces, several other Canadian universities have seen great competitive advantage in focusing on their biomedical science undergraduate programs. They have created new biomedical science degrees that prepare people for professional and graduate school, and industry careers. Thinking creatively and combining these with MBAs, Masters in Health Administration, law degrees, and so on—the possibilities are endless and the opportunities truly exciting!

Early this year I attended APP and BMI meetings where faculty unanimously voted to approve in principle the structure and proposed curricula for the new biomedical science (BMSC) program, in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences. The BMSC degree will have four streams with majors in: Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology; Neuroscience (working title); Cellular, Physiological and Pharmacological Sciences (working title); and Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences. These degrees will build on the excellent foundation of our current program with renewed priority on multidisciplinary training and experiential learning.

We have come a long way on this project thanks to the hard work and dedication of many people. Faculty members in both departments, particularly on the two undergraduate committees, have been working to create engaging and innovative new courses and majors.  At the meetings that I attended, there was a strong sense of enthusiasm for the new program that was reflected in the unanimous votes to accept the new programs in principle.  The merged departments are committed to creating and delivering outstanding undergraduate programs that will enhance the teaching and research missions of the College of Medicine.

The project has been led in the CoM by Dr. Scott Napper, supported ably by Dawn Giesbrecht and Sinead McGartland. Our APP and BMI department heads obviously have an important leadership role. And we have had wonderful collaboration with the College of Arts and Science, in particular Alexis Dahl, Director of the Programs Office, and Dr. Gordon DesBrisay, Vice-Dean, Academic.

The work within APP and BMI, and that with Arts and Science, are wonderful demonstrations of interdisciplinarity and collaboration as described in the University Plan 2025. The feedback I hear from our faculty is the mergers to our current APP and BMI departments are going very well; many are seeing the advantages of interdisciplinary work and experiencing great collegiality in these new departments.

On another note of good news, the CoM fared well in the latest round of CIHR project grants with five faculty being successful: Linda Chelico, Humphrey Fonge, Malcolm King and Alexandra King, and Shahid Ahmed. They matched the national success rate and will receive just over $4.8 million in total.

When you hear my elevator speech about our priorities of research, Indigenous health, learner wellness and faculty and staff engagement, I always preface those comments by noting excellence in education at the CoM as a given. As I said, we do a lot more than graduate doctors! That norm of excellence is applied to all of our educational programs and our biomedical scientists are doing outstanding work to ensure their undergraduate and graduate programs meet that standard.

As usual, my door is open and I am always glad to hear your feedback.

How diverse are we?

The CoM does not have comprehensive equity information for all of its faculty and academic leadership. This information is needed in order for us to assess whether we are living up to our values and principles focused on diversity and inclusion.

Among the CoM values we are committed to:

  • fairness and equitable treatment
  • inclusiveness

Among the CoM principles we believe in:

  • different ways of knowing, learning and being
  • diversity, equality and human dignity
  • reconciliation

Initially, due to the timeline for accreditation reporting requirements related to UGME accreditation element 3.3, we will gather data on representation among our faculty and academic leadership of three groups: visible minorities, women, and people of Indigenous ancestry. It is important to note that this is a first step in responding to the feedback of our accreditors with regard to diversity, which included their finding that we have no mechanism currently to measure diversity among our leadership and faculty.

The requirement for accreditation is outlined in the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS) language in standard 3 and delineated in element 3.3 within that standard. I share some brief content from both here:

Standard 3: Academic and Learning Environments
A medical school ensures that its medical education program occurs in professional, respectful, and intellectually stimulating academic and clinical environments, recognizes the benefits of diversity, and promotes students’ attainment of competencies required of future physicians.

3.3 Diversity/Pipeline Programs and Partnerships
A medical school in accordance with its social accountability mission has effective policies and practices in place, and engages in ongoing, systematic, and focused recruitment and retention activities, to achieve mission-appropriate diversity outcomes among its students, faculty, senior academic and educational leadership, and other relevant members of its academic community. These activities include the appropriate use of effective policies and practices, programs or partnerships aimed at achieving diversity among qualified applicants for medical school admission and the evaluation of policy and practices, program or partnership outcomes.

In alignment with USask priorities, we will also gather data on persons with disabilities among these two groups. The data will be gathered over the next few months using a short, four-question survey distributed by email this week to all individuals on the CoM faculty and in academic leadership positions.

We will aim for the highest possible participation in this survey, and with that in mind will be providing reminders and updates on the survey and participation levels from now until late April, when the survey will close.

Initially, we will make use of the survey results in preparing the report due to the CACMS in December 2019 for element 3.3, but the data will also become part of ongoing record keeping and data collection on diversity at the CoM.

Going forward, we will be expanding the diversity categories to be more inclusive. As well, we will continue to work in alignment with the university on diversity goals across our entire college community. We will rely on data we collect to support decision making and help us determine where we will focus our efforts.

We’ve made progress in many areas of diversity, and we have people on our team who have been leaders in this area for many years, who we thank and continue to rely on for guidance. Members of our Indigenous Health Committee are a clear example. Still, much needs to be done.

I ask that all of our academic leaders and faculty members take a few minutes to complete the survey when it reaches you later this week. Did I mention that it is very short? Only four questions that will take only a minute or two to complete! It’s a further important step towards being a more diverse and inclusive college. And while this work supports accreditation requirements and university priorities, most importantly our path to greater diversity and inclusion aligns with our values as a college.

It’s all about kindness

I hope all are keeping as warm as can be during these beautiful but cold Saskatchewan winter days. My response when weather comes up (and it seems we talk about it a lot here in Saskatchewan) is remember—we have the best summers in Canada! Sometimes I add that the best thing about when I lived in Halifax was that you could be guaranteed summer would start by August 1!

A number of events and comments in the last few weeks have reminded me of the importance of mental health, and the work that needs to be done to support the mental health of ourselves and our families, friends, learners, staff and faculty.

First, we saw “Blue Monday” come and go, a popular urban myth without objective evidence. Of course, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real mental health problem, and if the concept of Blue Monday encourages us to think about those around us that may be suffering, it may not be all bad. On the other hand, many myths about mental health are much more harmful.

This leads me to the next reminder— Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 31 saw 145,442,699 digital interactions and $7,272,134.95 raised. I will declare no conflict of interest and I will say the initiative to encourage discourse is great, but we must strive more to move to action on mental health.

Bell’s initiative has four pillars: anti-stigma, care and access, research and workplace health. Of course, all are relevant to a medical college. All of this reminds me of the very first public event I attended after arriving at the CoM in June 2014. I was at a banquet at the Bessborough. It was a lovely evening to be at an outside event but due to a thunderstorm quickly rolling in, the event was moved inside. Clara Hughes (Olympic medalist in both speed skating and cycling) spoke on mental health. I particularly recall her comments on the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma is the number one reason why many people do not seek help.

The mind-body divide is well entrenched in western ways of knowing and contributes greatly to the stigma many of us attach to mental illness. There are more holistic ways we can think about health and mental wellness, and we can learn so much from Indigenous colleagues and learners in this regard. For example, “The medicine wheel represents the alignment and continuous interaction of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realities.” (Source of quote/more information) In terms of the medicine wheel teachings, I acknowledge there are many teachings and many interpretations associated with the medicine wheel.

Concerning stigma, Bell Let’s Talk outlines five things that we all can do to end stigma: language matters; educate yourself, be kind, listen and ask, and talk about it.

And that leads me to the last event I participated in this week on mental health, which hopefully ties together some of the thoughts in this blog. I was fortunate to attend a banquet on Thursday night with Scott Livingstone and colleagues from the Saskatchewan Health Authority at Whitecap Dakota First Nation. The Saskatoon Tribal Council organized the event in support of the Walking Together Youth Gathering, an initiative on supporting Indigenous youth.

The keynote speaker was Jordin Tootoo,  the first player of Inuk descent and first player from Nunavut (Rankin Inlet) to play in the NHL (four teams from 2003 to 17). He is also celebrated for his contributions to Canada’s silver medal team in the 2003 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Jordin provided a powerful and inspirational talk about his journey from his childhood to present with a frank description of the trauma he endured and the challenges he suffered from mental health and addiction to alcohol. His talk was painful, tender and yet hopeful. And at the end he told some great hockey stories for all the Canadians in the room.

I will leave you with the following quote from Jordin that resonated powerfully with me:

“We all fight a fight nobody knows about – It’s all about kindness.”

So be warm out there, take care of each other, and as always, I am always open to your input and feedback.

 

 

The CaRMS journey has begun for 2019

It is that time of year again: our fourth-year medical students have embarked on their Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) interview journey. For many, it literally is a journey. Some students started last Monday at Memorial University in Newfoundland and are working their way west, interviewing as they go. Many students have scheduled in excess of 10 interviews!

Last week and this week are designated for interviews across Canada. I think deans, UGME leaders, parents and partners of these students from programs across the country are collectively holding our breath, hoping travels will be safe and interviews successful. It is an arduous process and for our students a source of great personal stress.

Recently, Dr. Kent Stobart (Vice-Dean Education) and I had our regular meeting with the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan. What a great group of student leaders we have here at the CoM! Thank you for the great work you do on behalf of your peers and our college.

Early in 2019, Dr. Stobart and I also hosted breakfasts with our medical students in both Saskatoon and Regina; I asked each fourth-year student about his or her plans for residency education and if each felt well prepared for career selection and the CaRMS process. I must say I was gratified to hear they all felt well prepared by our Career Advising program. This is a multi-faceted program focused on preparing students to pick the best specialty for themselves. It starts at the beginning of first-year medical education and extends right through to mock interviews (these were going on until the weekend before last, here!) for students finishing the MD program who are heading into their CaRMS interviews. Another interesting observation from these breakfast conversations came from some students who commented that while doing electives away, they felt their medical education compared well to that at other schools. While subjective self-comparison and small numbers may not be good science on its own, hearing this felt good anyway!

Our Career Advising program offers great resources through our Career Advising Guide and website.  I would like to acknowledge the great work done by UGME leadership and staff, and the many on our faculty who advise, mentor, provide feedback and do mock interviews for our students, as they prepare for CaRMS. In particular, I thank Stephanie Marshall, our Career Advising & Mentoring coordinator, for her great work in providing this important program to our students.

Of course, this is also a really busy time for our PGME office, especially our residency programs, as they do the interviews and embark on file review and selection of new first-year residents for their programs. I chaired the resident selection committee at Dalhousie family medicine for several years, so I know all too well how much is involved. Thanks and kudos to all the staff and faculty who do this essential work.

Career advising and resident selection are among the really important things we do for our students, our residency programs and our province. It is essential for the public we serve that our healthcare system has the right mix of family doctors, specialists and sub-specialists. I know I am joined by many in extending good wishes that our students pursuing residency positions find themselves in a field of medicine that gives them great career satisfaction. Ultimately, the people of Saskatchewan are the beneficiaries of this important work.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Happy 2019: books and other things

I would like to welcome all our learners, staff and faculty back after what I hope for everyone was a rejuvenating break. I wish all a very happy New Year.

For myself, it was a wonderful break with lots of time with family and friends—with special emphasis on my three-year-old grandson! It was all great fun but I particularly enjoyed the moment on Boxing Day when he took a stocking-shaped ornament off the tree and asked his mother to hang it up on the mantle in hopes of a repeat. Smart guy!

2018 was a good year for the CoM and you have heard me repeatedly highlight our accreditation success, student success on the MCC exams with our new curriculum, and our ASPIRE Award for Social Accountability. A particular highlight coming this spring will be a trip to Montreal for the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame dinner, where Dr. Jim Dosman, founder of the Canadian Center for Health and Safety in Agriculture, will be one of six inductees! This is a huge honour for Jim and testimony to the history of excellence at the CoM. I have been at several of these dinners and Jim is both highly deserving as an inductee and remarkable in how active he continues to be in his scholarly work. Congratulations, Jim!

One of my favorite parts of this past season is (through suggestion or downright begging) that I see a substantial addition to my pile of books. So at the risk of appearing “Obama-esque,” I will share some of the highlights. My haul included Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey (a cookbook and travelogue from National Geographic), Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (American presidential scholar; it seemed apropos for both the times and this job), Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid Against Nazi Germany by Ted Barris (I like WW2 history) and two books by Tanya Talaga, a prize-winning Canadian Indigenous author and longtime journalist with the Toronto Star. Her second book is All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward, which is from her CBC Massey Lectures. Over the holidays I read her first book, Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City and found it heart-breaking and infuriating, yet I saw it pointing to the title of the second book which I will start this weekend! As one critic said, “She offers painful lessons while courting hope.”

I absolutely can recommend Leadership in Turbulent Times because Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of my favorite biographers (she also wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln). More importantly, I highly recommend Seven Fallen Feathers. Another critic (Ottawa Review of Books) said, “Once started, this book is difficult to put down. At just over 300 pages, Seven Fallen Feathers moves from one compelling story to the next, and seamlessly weaves in facts and history. The writing is crisp and thoughtful. Seven Fallen Feathers… fosters understanding, and is a book that can benefit everyone.”

So, the first goal of this blog is to welcome everyone back and wish you a great 2019. A secondary goal of sharing my reading list is that you may pass on your reviews of recent great reads. (That pile of books of mine always also includes some historical fiction and a Swedish crime novel or two!) Sometimes a book is just permission to check out, which we all need from time to time.

As always, I look forward to your feedback (or book suggestions!).

 

Enjoy a wonderful holiday season

As we wrap up our work for another academic term and calendar year here at the CoM, I want to wish you, your families and loved ones a joyful and safe holiday season filled with peace and contentment.

I certainly think we can look back on 2018 very positively for our college. Two particular highlights for me were the great news we got on UGME accreditation in June and the 2018 international ASPIRE award in social accountability we were honoured with in August. These are just the tip of the iceberg, as our whole team contributed to progress across multiple fronts. I’ll highlight a few areas here.

Our PGME office continued the rollout of Competence by Design across its programs, with CBD workshops for faculty and staff at the college’s Regina campus in June and CBD launches in Emergency Medicine and Surgical Foundations in July. We saw our MD Class of 2018, the first cohort to graduate from our new curriculum, score substantially higher on the national exam assessing their competence for entry into postgraduate medical education. We had a highly successful implementation of the new Diversity and Social Accountability Admissions Program, which reserves six of the 100 seats in our undergraduate medical education program for students from socio-economically challenged backgrounds.

Our biomedical science departments moved officially from five to two departments in July. We continue to improve our approach and results in research funding—this is ongoing work as a key focus of our strategic plan. We welcomed the Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health (IIPH)—one of 13 institutes of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)—under the leadership of the institute’s scientific director, Carrie Bourassa, to our college in October.

Looking ahead, we have our more detailed strategic plan in hand to guide our work, with nine strategic directions identified. We will pay particular attention to improvements across research, Indigenous health, student wellness, and faculty and staff engagement.

But for now, please accept my thanks and my wishes for a wonderful holiday season: to all in the CoM for your outstanding work in 2018, and to our alumni, partners and friends for your support and engagement in our mission.

Updated strategic plan will guide our work

As you will recall, we launched a high level strategic plan document in early 2017, documenting our new vision, mission and priority areas. In more recent months, priority area leaders and their teams have been working to fill in the details of the plan, defining more specific objectives and targets to guide our work to 2022. As the university has developed its 2018-2025 plan, we have also worked to ensure alignment of our plan with the broader university’s commitments, goals and aspirations.

We now have that more comprehensive plan document to share with you. Our previous priority areas are now expressed as strategic directions in this larger plan. I want to quickly outline four key areas of focus for our success with this plan that are top of mind for me, and that we all should be thinking about in our work across all our strategic directions:

  • Indigenous health is critically important for our college, our healthcare system and university, and our whole province, and we must all work to ensure equity in education and care.
  • While we are doing some great work in research, we know from the results and metrics of other medical schools in Canada that we must do better, moving our college to its rightful place as a research powerhouse for our university and province.
  • We must do further work to support our learners and their wellness.
  • We have important work to do to improve the workplace satisfaction and engagement of our faculty and staff.

Our new, more fully fleshed out 2017-2022 College of Medicine Strategic Plan document is available on our newly updated strategic plan webpage. The page includes a strategic plan message from me that I hope you will take a few minutes to read. Our plan will evolve, of course, as our world and indeed as we evolve, so we must view it as a living document that will need refinement along the way to 2022. We will use this plan to guide our work and to measure our progress, maintaining focus and consistency to the extent possible, while responding with resilience to changes internally and in the world around us.

Please take some time to visit this webpage and read the plan document provided there. As always, I welcome your feedback.