A busy and exciting year ahead

In my recent welcome back blog, I alluded to a busy fall coming up at the CoM. This blog outlines some of the big things going on and what I will be up to in the coming months.

First, I had the great opportunity on Thursday to attend the grand opening of the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, an incredibly exciting day for our province’s children and their loved ones, as well as our health system and college. Later this month, the first patients will be able to enter this wonderful new facility. We have a great team in the Department of Pediatrics and amazing and dedicated volunteers and organizers to support the hospital as it opens its doors. For our college, it will provide tremendous opportunities for enhanced teaching and research in pediatric health supported by both the new infrastructure and expansion in pediatric specialties.

Also highly significant for the College of Medicine and our faculty is today’s announcement that Dr. Marilyn Baetz will start as our vice-dean faculty engagement on November 1, 2019. Marilyn has done a wonderful job leading the Department of Psychiatry and I am sure will be sorely missed in that role and by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. I am very pleased to announce Marilyn’s appointment and look forward to the work she will do in enhancing faculty engagement (which you likely know by now is one of our top strategic priorities I always include in my elevator speech about our strategic plan).

Fall is now also a busy season for work on budgets, with our fiscal planning at all levels taking place earlier to ensure an approved budget is in place when we start the new fiscal year in April. This timeline also coincides with government budget timelines, and we have already been working with our colleagues at the university and in government on our 2020-2021 budget request.

The CoM’s education portfolio is very active. We have just completed an external review of Student Affairs and Dr.  Kent Stobart and his team are working to continue to enhance student services. Dr. Trustin Domes has taken on the role of Director of Admissions and we will soon initiate a major review of our admissions policies. Some may have noticed Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry making national news for their innovations in admissions—a reminder of the challenge in medical education I keep telling our funders about: the bar is always moving! In PGME, Competence by Design continues to roll out across more programs, with 10 so far that have launched CBD. And in December, we provide the Committee on Accreditation of Medical Schools with the follow-up data they had requested after our successful accreditation visit in 2017. All of these activities align with our strategic priority of quality education.

Work in the biomedical sciences (BMSC) to develop a new undergraduate degree program continues on schedule. Our departments of Anatomy, Physiology & Pharmacology and Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology are hard at work recruiting new faculty to replace some of our retirees. And in Community Health and Epidemiology, plans are well underway for 60th anniversary celebrations this fall.

The above provides a few highlights of all that is upcoming—our departments and units across the CoM are doing a great deal more that I will not be able to capture here. We are a big and busy college, there is no question!

I have taken on some additional national roles. I continue to Chair the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) Standing Committee on Education and sit on the AFMC Executive. I represent deans on the PGME Governing Council, the Distributed Medical Education group of the AFMC and the Rural Road Map Implementation Committee led by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. I am also the CFPC nominee to the board of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Fall is always a busy time for national meetings and I will be away for a few, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) meeting, Learn Serve Lead in Phoenix, and the International Conference on Residency Education (ICRE), run by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The AAMC meeting is always a great way to learn about innovations in medical education and ICRE is becoming a huge meeting for PGME that I will be attending for the first time. Finally, as I sit on the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s Quality, Safety & Strategy committee, I hope to attend the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) National Forum on Quality Improvement in Healthcare in December. IHI calls the attendees, “passionate professionals unsatisfied with the current state of health care, and unwilling to stand still,” and I am told it is partly professional development and partly a “revival meeting.” I look forward to the experience!

So as always there is lots on the go at the CoM. But I am not ready to let go of summer yet so I thought I might let you know what I was reading this year. I had done so in a previous blog and a number of people asked to hear more. So my summer relaxation was a few of my old, low cognitive load standbys of historical fiction and mystery. I finished Ken Follet’s Edge of Eternity and David Baldacci’s The Fallen and Long Road to Mercy. (This is of course to prove I am not totally a nerd!)

But my real discovery this summer was Louise Penney, a Canadian author from rural Quebec who sets her mystery novels there. It is a series, and this year I accidently discovered her by desperately searching a grocery store in rural New Brunswick for something to read! I read her Kingdom of the Blind and immediately thought, “Where have you been all this time!” So now I have started the first book in the 15-book series, Still Life. They are great mysteries and a charming slice of Canadiana, complemented by a wicked but subtle sense of humor!

To reinforce that I am still part nerd, on September 1 I started Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. It is written in that modern style of “science writer for the general public,” so there are some great anecdotes, some fascinating research and the odd leap of logic. However, he does quite a job of debunking the universal applicability of Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and other current concepts like deliberate practice, early starts and grit. What I found fascinating was how some of the education research he describes supports what we are doing in our new BMSC undergraduate degree and the Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship in our UGME program. It also supports some of the themes in the U of S Strategic Plan “The Weave” – especially the themes of Connectivity and Creativity. It is always interesting to see confirming ideas coming from different directions (or is this just another bubble?). I digress; however, I do recommend the book as a thought-provoking read.

This will be a busy fall for everyone as we continue to move the CoM forward. I hope that for some who share my taste in books, these are potential distractions! I hope others will share their favorite books.

And as I always say, my door is open and I welcome feedback. As well, with our new vice-dean faculty engagement joining the team in November, we will have even more opportunities to hear from our faculty. Furthermore, we have a vice-dean education, vice-dean research and a chief operating officer who are all willing to hear from learners, teachers, researchers and staff.


Welcome back!

This is a very brief blog to welcome everyone back for the start of a new academic year. I want to welcome all of our learners: biomedical science students, graduate students, physical therapy students, medical students and residents! We are a big family, with about 2,000 learners here at the CoM.

I want to welcome our first-year medical students, as I missed your Orientation early in August when I was away in the Maritimes. We are thrilled to have you on board and I look forward to getting to know you.

Welcome back to all staff and faculty. I hope you had a restful and restorative summer break. I have been back now for two weeks, mostly on the road in Saskatchewan. I have been to Regina twice for meetings and last week I was at the university’s Senior Leadership Retreat in Waskesiu and an SHA board meeting in Meadow Lake.

With those meetings being back-to-back, I took advantage of the opportunity and the good weather to make it a 1000k motorcycle trip from Saskatoon to Waskesiu, to Meadow Lake, and then back via Blaine Lake, over three days. It was a great ride through some amazing scenery through our Saskatchewan Prairies (mixed grassland to be specific) and Boreal Plains ecozones!

It was great to visit Meadow Lake and meet with members of the community there at an SHA board reception held at the Meadow Lake Tribal Council offices. I also spoke with some of our medical faculty in Meadow Lake. They have done a great job as one of our two inaugural sites of our Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (SLIC); two new third-year medical students have just started there this summer in that program. (Estevan is our other SLIC site, and we have two third-year students there this year as well.)

The community and our faculty are to be commended for a doing a great job last year and enthusiastically continuing this year despite a significant physician shortage, which the community and the SHA are working hard to correct. I had a great conversation with our SLIC lead in Meadow Lake, Dr. Rebecca Epp, and was very grateful to see the remarkable enthusiasm for medical education and commitment to their community. Both as dean and as an SHA board member I say thank you to these dedicated physicians!

As always, we have a lot to do this fall, with lots of exciting initiatives and, of course, the odd challenge to face. But for now, let’s focus on enjoying our last kick at summer relaxation over the Labour Day long weekend.

Have a great weekend! Go Riders! And remember my door is always open and I always appreciate your feedback.

P.S. Here are a few pictures from my holidays in the Maritimes – a fishing camp on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick and a cottage on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia:


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.

Five years last Saturday, graduation and summer plans!

On June 1, 2014 I started as dean here at the College of Medicine! I find it hard to believe, as it feels like yesterday. On the other hand, I remember some days or weeks that seemed to last forever.

Overall, these have been some of the most fascinating and enriching years of my professional career. Some days my memories of pre-dean life are nostalgic: delivering babies, working through complex diagnoses, and helping my patients through their illness and suffering. Then I remind myself that I don’t have to do a difficult lumbar puncture on an upset toddler, tell people they have had a stroke or a heart attack, deal with a difficult shoulder dystocia, or do palliative care on a young mother with inflammatory breast cancer or a young father with melanoma. And even though I occasionally am staring at the ceiling at three in the morning, I am never called out in the middle of the night. These are all true stories I can assure you!

So, five great years as dean, and now I am looking forward to another five. As many will know,  Provost Tony Vannelli announced May 13 that I will start my second term as dean of the CoM on July 1, 2019.

First, I profoundly thank all those learners, faculty, and staff who have worked so hard with me over the past five years. We have accomplished a lot together! Second, I thank the review committee and all of you who provided feedback to the review committee. I am humbled by the kind words and appreciative of the constructive feedback that was provided.

And third, we have lots more to do; don’t expect the CoM to be standing still! As you know, we have a great strategic plan, which you were instrumental in forming, and it is comprehensive and ambitious. My elevator speech for our plan: if our new normal is medical education excellence, then our priorities are Indigenous health, research, learner wellness, and faculty and staff engagement.

Yesterday was graduation day for our college, and a great day it was! For the first time in 50 years, convocation was held on campus, and I have only heard rave reviews of the venue, Merlis Belsher Place. A special thank you to our faculty who were on stage. I would highly encourage all faculty to think about joining us next year—to see firsthand our graduates crossing the stage and the beautiful venue.

At our CoM Graduation Banquet and Ceremony last night, we had a wonderful evening of celebration, with many awards handed out. I want to highlight the 2019 Faculty Teaching Awards given out to Dr. Trustin Domes in Saskatoon, Dr. Rashmi Bhargava in Regina, and Dr. Peggy Lambos in Prince Albert. Dr. Trustin Domes, a urologist and Director of Education for Surgery—now transitioning to our Director of Admissions—gave an inspiring keynote address.

Drs. Kiefer Lypka and Michael Schinold were masterful as our Masters of Ceremony. Dr. Bonnie Liu provided one of the best valedictorian speeches I have heard. It was warm throughout, funny, and highlighted many events and classmates of the past four years for the MD Class of 2019. Bonnie both inspired and challenged her classmates and herself to be the best possible doctors and people they could be, all delivered with remarkable grace and humility. All in all, I am very proud of our Class of 2019 students; they simultaneously inspired my confidence in their future and the future of the CoM.

For our graduates, convocation triggers the excitement and anxiety of starting afresh as a resident. For others, like myself, it truly signals the start of summer! And I do have some travel plans over the next three months.

To celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, Jane and I will start a two-week vacation June 14 in Europe, beginning in Budapest and ending in Prague, with seven days cruising the Danube (and a Jann Arden performance) in-between.

Later in the summer, I will be in the Maritimes for three weeks that will include a family wedding, seeing old friends and some fly fishing on the Miramichi River. On a more exciting note, I will be back in NB in September for the birth of my second grandchild!

So I wish all of you an excellent summer vacation and our graduates all the best wishes for an excellent residency experience. Rest assured, like all things, that first night on call will soon be a memory—you will do fine because you have great training and are great graduates of the U of S!

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.



Saskatchewan shines during “conference month”

April is always a busy month for conferences and this year was no exception. Two meetings that I found particularly enjoyable and inspiring were the Rural and Remote Medicine Conference put on by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC), and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) Induction Ceremony.

I must note, as a medical educator and board member of the AFMC, that the Canadian Conference on Medical Education and the AFMC board meetings in Niagara Falls in mid-April were excellent as usual.

Rural and Remote, as its fans call it, was held in Halifax, where I got to revisit old haunts, see old friends, get my fill of lobster rolls, seafood restaurants, Maritime pub music and Maritime craft beer. It was great fun—and that says nothing of the great meeting.

SRPC is a member-based organization of both specialist and family medicine physicians who practice in rural Canada. I have presented workshops there in the past and this was the fourth time I attended. I always come away in awe of our colleagues who practice rural and remote medicine. Their camaraderie and shared vision for excellence in the care of rural people is impressive.

Continuing medical education (CME) is always outstanding and is always presented by a mixture of SRPC members and city-based experts. A stand out presentation for me, delivered by a rural physician, involved evidence-based medicine used superbly to eviscerate a set of guidelines, as well as document all of the conflicts of interest among the guideline authors!

Dr. Jon Witt provided a truly inspiring presentation on the Humboldt Broncos Code Orange. Jon’s story made one proud to be from Saskatchewan. Rural and Remote felt like a Saskatchewan meeting, as we were so well represented by the SMA, saskdocs, Northern Medical Services and the CoM.

I suggested to my dean colleagues at the CME that they all should attend an SRPC meeting at least once to truly understand the challenges our rural colleagues face in providing care in such resource scarce environments. It is good advice for anyone in an academic centre. Besides, they are a fun group and the CME is excellent.

The CMHF Induction Ceremony was held last week in Montreal, hosted by the McGill University Faculty of Medicine. The CMHF is a 25-year-old organization with the vision: a Canada that honours our medical heroes – those of the past, present and future. As of 2018, there were 137 laureates. Each year there are six new laureates inducted, one of which may be post-humous. The CMHF is based in London, Ontario and will have a new Exhibit Hall in early 2020.

Through 2018, Saskatchewan had six members.

You can see five of their pictures outside my office at the CoM: Dr. Calvin Stiller, Dr. Harold Jons, Dr. Sylvia Fedoruk, Dr. James Till and Justice Emmitt Hall. You will find the picture of Tommy Douglas in our USask College of Law. In 2019, we honoured our seventh inductee: Dr. James Dosman.

Most members are physicians or scientists. Others, such as Saskatchewan’s Douglas and Hall, have been critical in shaping Canadian health care. In that vein, one of the 2019 inductees was a medical historian from Queen’s. Some other national names everyone may recognize from years past include Sir William Osler, Dr. Wilder Penfield, Sir Frederick Banting, Dr. Charles Best and Dr. Norman Bethune.

The experience in 2019 was very special, as Jim is a CoM alumnus and has spent his entire career (with the exception of his residency at McGill) at USask. Jim is well known to many of us, but I highly recommend you visit the CMHF Induction 2019 website to see his bio with this year’s inductees. Jim was the founder of the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) and is known as the “father of agricultural medicine” in Canada.

We were well represented at the ceremony, with two tables for the CoM and CCHSA, and two more with Jim’s family, including his wife Susan and children and grandchildren, and friends. It was a very special Saskatchewan moment in Montreal when they showed Jim’s CMHF tribute video describing his amazing contributions in care, teaching, research and leadership.

All inductees selected a piece of music for their walk to the stage and many chose classical and more traditional pieces. Jim went up on stage to The Last Saskatchewan Pirate by The Arrogant Worms; it brought the house down!

For Jim’s nomination, I thank especially Dr. Shelley Kirychuk and the team at CCHSA, Dr. Ernie Barber, and Gail Shivak and our CoM advancement team.

Also making us all proud was Adam Neufeld, in our third-year MD class, who received the Dr. Calvin R. Stiller CMHF Award. Adam has a passion for community outreach, research and mentorship and among other accomplishments was awarded the 2018 CoM Mentor of the Year Award. You can read more about Adam on the CMHF website or in this article in the SMA Digest (page 27).

So, it was a busy April of national meetings with Saskatchewan excellently represented.

As always, I welcome your feedback.


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.