Mid-Summer Check-in

I hope all are enjoying this beautiful Saskatchewan summer and getting some down time. I wanted to give you some brief updates.

First, I want to provide a belated welcome to our PGY1’s as they are now two weeks into their residency programs. I was in clinic on Orientation Day and pleased to see the new Family Medicine residents and especially pleased to see so many familiar faces.

We have had great success at seeing our own graduates choose our residency programs and that bodes well for the future recruitment by the Saskatchewan Health Authority of our graduates. And hopefully the new residents have all successfully survived their first few nights on call and their average daily heart rates are starting to trend back to normal!

Second, I would like to congratulate Dr. Troy Harkness and Dr. Terra Arnason from the CoM and Dr. Christopher Eskiw from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources for their success in the latest Project Grant round of CIHR. They were awarded $872,000 over five years and even more remarkably their project received a score of 4.59 and was ranked second among 54 grant applications. Congratulations to Troy and his team!

I would also like to point out that Troy thanks the CoM for the CoMBridge funding that he received last year that was instrumental in this tremendous CIHR success. Repeatedly researchers who have received CoM support have gone on to national success.

What many in the public do not understand is that local and provincial support to researchers is absolutely essential for success in the big national competitions. Researchers need immense amounts of preparation and preliminary data to compete on the incredibly competitive national stage. The Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation has very limited funding and thus this internal support to our researchers is essential to our research success.

However, what the public may not also realize is that provincial research funding is directly correlated with provincial health outcomes. A paper from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy by Zwicker and Emery entitled, “How is Funding Medical Research Better for Patients?”  is sobering reading for anyone from Saskatchewan or Manitoba!

We all know correlation is not causation but the authors quite clearly demonstrate that mortality from potentially avoidable causes and treatable causes is inversely correlated with provincial research funding. So as a socially accountable organization we must do all we can to support research.

Finally, and on a personal level, I can report our 40th wedding anniversary river cruise in Eastern Europe was incredible! Budapest and Prague are my new favorite cities and the concert on board by Jann Arden was incredible. We also had a few days last week in the Rockies with family and look forward to a family wedding in NB and some Miramichi salmon fishing in early August.

So I hope you all are having a great summer and remember my door is open and I value your feedback.

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.



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