COVID-19 impact on research

Many adjustments have been made to where and how we are working in the past month. With this blog, I draw attention to the difficult circumstances of our researchers—our faculty researchers, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

For this group, our campus and other facilities are critical to the progress of their work. So, similar to learners who can’t be physically present in clinical settings, most or all work for our researchers is stopped at this time. Their projects, some of which may have been on the cusp of a significant breakthrough, are halted. For our graduate students, as I mentioned in my earlier blog on learners, this stop to projects comes also with delays in graduation for some and managing difficult financial realities for many.

Processes are underway for determining facility access for projects related to COVID-19, and of course some access has been ongoing for some COVID-19 work at VIDO-Intervac and with testing in some of our laboratory facilities, and for projects involving care of animals. But for the majority of our researchers, projects are halted and they won’t gain access to facilities until that time when we begin our return to campuses and other facilities.

We have  a number of our researchers involved in the critically important COVID-19 efforts at USask, like Scott Napper, professor of biochemistry and senior scientist at VIDO-Intervac. Maureen Anderson, assistant professor in community health and epidemiology, worked with the dynamic modelling team providing evidence to inform Saskatchewan’s pandemic decision-making in real-time, a collaboration with USask’s Department of Computer Science. Gary Groot, associate professor in community health and epidemiology and surgery, is working with Jim Barton, associate dean of continuing medical education, and a team that’s been gathering and vetting information on the science of the COVID-19 virus to inform provincial leaders in their planning and decision-making. I know you join me in thanking these members of our team for their work.

These efforts focused now on COVID-19 are a reminder that under normal circumstances, on a daily basis, our researchers are engaged in knowledge creation and discoveries that the world needs—important work that our researchers are passionate about, and to which they are passionately committed.

I am not suggesting that the physical distancing measures and changes in access to our facilities are not the right things to do—we know they are and that the safety of our people is paramount and comes before other considerations. But I do want to bring attention to the significance of this change for our researchers, this loss of momentum, this stop to incredibly important work.

As you can appreciate, it is particularly ironic to have, at the very same time, public recognition broadening for just how important science, knowledge creation and discovery are to our collective safety and wellbeing. That said, we know this public awareness is a good thing ultimately for science, and certainly has brought the incredibly valuable work of our population health experts and biomedical scientists to the forefront.

Similar to many, my own awareness and understanding of population health, immunology and the nature of viruses is expanding. I’ve become quite immersed, while working out, in This Week in Virology podcasts. Perhaps it’s my inner nerd speaking; I find them fascinating. I expect many of you are accessing new sources of information related to the pandemic; I welcome you to share here information you are turning to and finding helpful.

So with this message, I ask you to join me in acknowledging and recognizing our researchers at the CoM for their valuable contributions—those engaged directly in work now on the virus, but equally those who are removed for the time being from their work on underlying causes, treatments and cures for so many areas of health: cancer, heart disease and stroke, HIV-AIDS, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, cystic fibrosis, and so many more.

Coming days at the CoM

I wanted to share some current thoughts for how our college is operating today in light of the pandemic, and what we expect in the coming days and weeks.

Increasingly we are seeing the need to continue with our critical actions of physical distancing, practicing proper hygiene, staying at home as much as possible, and self-isolation when required. The Government of Saskatchewan’s release of COVID-19 modelling for Saskatchewan yesterday as the basis for health system planning (it is not a prediction), underlines this need to continue with current measures.

In short, we are in a holding pattern for now. I am sure you will appreciate that we cannot plan with great certainty, especially farther out. We do know that for the moment and likely until at least July, we are continuing with learning, teaching and working remotely.

Our physicians too are delivering more care virtually, but of course our residents, medical faculty and some of our staff are attending our hospitals and other healthcare facilities, looking after patients, while learning and adjusting to new realities, approaches and safety measures. To this group: you are our colleagues and our learners, and we are keenly aware of the challenges and difficulties you are facing. Alongside everyone in Saskatchewan, we are thinking of and thanking you each and every day.

We are committed to supporting your efforts on the frontline by doing our part to stay home, practice appropriate hygiene, and do all in our power to stay well.

For all who are learning and working remotely, our new methods of staying connected will continue for the near future. With our learners, we will continue to update you with communications from your program offices, as well as with virtual meetings including town halls, small group work, and meetings with student and resident leaders. And we continue with online teaching and learning, and meetings, and various virtual administrative meetings, as our college moves forward in its mandate as much as possible apart from our physical facilities at our campuses and sites around the province.

So I offer words of encouragement to everyone at the CoM. Maintain a strong commitment to the necessary processes and approaches we’ve adopted. Use the virtual tools we have at our disposal to stay connected and stay positive and healthy. Help is available to all—our learners, faculty and staff—if you are struggling personally, through our USask resources and within our college, and via your supervisors. Do not hesitate to reach out if you need support.

Finally, on a separate note, I want to congratulate Dr. Melissa Just, who the university named this week our incoming interim provost and vice-president academic. She joined USask as dean of the University Library in February 2017 and has provided exceptional leadership in that role, and brings a strong background with extensive experience in academic and research libraries, including within a medical school, at a variety of major American universities. I am looking forward to working with Melissa in the days ahead.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Stay well.

Staying connected with our learners

With my blog this week I want to reach out in particular to our learners with some words of support.

As well, I want to share how our learners in different programs and years are continuing with their education and training.

So first, some words to our learners: the college, and our leaders and staff in your respective programs appreciate your patience and commitment in adjusting to the many changes in education delivery caused by COVID-19. We know you have many questions and we have received many of those from you; CoM leaders, faculty and staff are working very hard to provide answers where we have them, and support you in various ways. We all need to hang in there, continue to stay connected in safe ways, and help one another out with understanding and patience.

As you know, the primary effort for all of us right now is the one we are each making to protect our health and that of others. That does not mean all else stops, and in as many ways as safe and reasonable, we continue to move ahead. Our college is committed to advancing learners through their programs in a safe manner; this work is more important than ever.

Second, what is happening with our learners now?

Our programs and offices are in contact with students, responding to inquiries and providing updates. Leaders in our School of Rehabilitation Sciences, graduate studies, undergraduate and postgraduate medical education offices, at our Regina campus and other sites, and in all our departments are maintaining connections with their respective learners, answering questions and providing support. As we learn new ways to do so, we are working to maintain and bring normality to how we connect with learners.

Medical education learners – undergraduate

Our approach to the undergraduate medical education program during COVID-19 is based on three principles: learner well-being; completion of education/clerkship and graduation on time; and public health obligations.

Our Year 4 MD students have completed their clinical work and will graduate on June 4, 2020. They will join residency programs as usual, with about half staying in Saskatchewan programs and the rest joining programs in other provinces across the country.

Our Year 3 MD students are in a particularly challenging time, as they have had to step away from clinical learning since March 16. They will return to complete Year 3 when conditions are improved both in terms of safety and availability of a broad range of clinical learning experiences. Right now, we don’t know when that will be, and recognize how difficult this uncertainty is for these students. In the interim, we have begun planning for how this return of Year 3 students to clinical learning can best be managed, the starting point for charting a path toward successful completion of Year 3 and developing a plan for Year 4 for the MD Class of 2021.

Year 1 and 2 MD students are currently participating in lectures and completing assessments remotely, and participating in small group sessions through videoconferencing. Their Clinical Skills courses have been postponed for reasons of safety and availability of learning experiences, and course leaders are working on redesigning these courses for later delivery.

We have begun holding regular virtual town halls with our undergraduate medical students and will continue to do so, and are in close contact with student leaders. Our Office of Student Affairs is available to all undergraduate medical students needing support.

Medical education learners – postgraduate

In postgraduate training, our residents are being supported by their departments and our postgrad office on processes for possible redeployment if necessary to areas of need, and provisional licensing for those in their finishing year. This might mean a shift of timelines with regard to program completion for some, but our residents continue their critical roles in patient care, working and training in clinical settings, with the appropriate precautions and safety measures in place aligned with their levels of training.

Graduate students

Our graduate students also face big changes and challenges, with financial concerns related to part-time work and summer job availability, while continuing their studies. The vast majority are unable to access university buildings and facilities to continue research projects. Know that our college is actively engaged in this issue and working with USask on solutions. This week, I joined CoM Vice-Dean Research Marek Radomski and Assistant Dean Graduate Studies David Cooper at a meeting with our CoM Graduate Student Association. We continue to advocate for our graduate students and are staying in close contact with the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) students

The School of Rehabilitation Science (SRS) is supporting its students and working to minimize any negative impact on their academic progress. Our faculty there are teaching remotely and students are participating in online classes and examinations focused on the theoretical components of learning objectives. Laboratory content and evaluation have been deferred until students can return for face-to-face delivery. Clinical placements have been cancelled and the school is working diligently to manage the impact. Our MPT research projects have been modified so students can continue their research remotely. SRS faculty and staff maintain close communication with students, and are offering additional material via webinars and promoting wellness activities during this time of physical isolation.

Finally, and once again, I thank our learners, faculty and staff for your efforts of these recent weeks to stay committed and connected.

Planning and hope

My first message to you with this blog is that I hope you are finding ways to stay well in body, mind and spirit through these uncertain times. For our learners, staff and faculty, know that our college is here to support you as you adjust to learning and working in different ways.

I want to share a few articles I’ve read in the past few days that I found helpful. I think they are valuable reminders of our shared purpose regarding COVID-19, as well as the amazing resilience and strength of the human spirit. Perhaps these resources will provide you with some additional knowledge, strengthened resolve, and some peace from knowing what you can and are contributing to this extraordinary global effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.

I’m impressed by those individuals advocating loudly for the public health measures that are absolutely needed to get us through this. This week I was pleased to see a group of medical leaders come forward with all of the right points about public health measures through this opinion piece in the New York Times. An emergency doctor in Ontario appealed to people who still believe their lives should go on as usual through this CBC story. And of course, the many stories of people safely singing from their balconies to cheer on and thank our healthcare workers, and provide cheer to one another.

All kinds of information is coming out around efforts at predicting and planning for how we will be impacted in Saskatchewan by the pandemic. Minister of Health Jim Reiter made what I consider a very correct statement when he said he wanted to have the worst-case scenario.

As the saying goes, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” (from author Lee Child). So absolutely we must be planning for the worst-case scenario to do our best to manage this evolving pandemic. Saskatchewan has brilliant population health experts and scientists working on solutions and excellent physicians leading teams in providing the best care possible. Planning and preparing are critical and our province is doing that.

Now to the other part of that quote, I turn your thoughts to hope, and another article about two Italian physicians I read in the Globe and Mail recently. They are in the thick of the world’s most intense COVID-19 battles. While the article outlines dire circumstances and realities, it also reminds us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit I referenced earlier. Hope is the fuel that will keep us going so we can each continue to do our part in this crisis.

What I am seeing around me gives me hope. Amazing efforts in planning, care and research. And I see every day how our team at the CoM and others are connecting virtually to support one another through these times. I see you reaching out with empathy, humour, offers of support. We need to keep doing this.

One other thing I am reading right now is excellent science-based information about COVID-19 from our own experts, and others. It’s being organized and compiled by our Division of Continuing Medical Education and you can find it on their web page: CME | COVID-19: Resource Center.

Finally, I will say it again: please do all in your power to stay well. It is the greatest help we can give healthcare workers and everyone we care about at this time.

Pulling together

I have just a few brief and very simple messages I want to share with you.

First, as we make our way through the COVID-19 situation, everyone is impacted and it is understandably unsettling. We are adjusting and learning on the fly as we adapt to a new reality in our important work of teaching and learning, research and community engagement. The importance of working together and supporting one another through this can’t be overstated, while at the same time ensuring we are doing that in appropriate ways given the need for social distancing.

As I mentioned in earlier messages to you in recent days, we need to be patient with each other and as supportive as we each can be. Our medical faculty and our residents are on the frontline in clinical settings helping deliver patient care and we all have an important role in ensuring we do the right things to not increase the burden on the healthcare system—the basics of cleanliness and social distancing measures you are all familiar with now. Please, everyone, do this part diligently!

As well, some helpful information for self-care has been posted on Twitter by Dr. Tamara Hinz, on faculty in our Department of Psychiatry. Thank you, Tamara, for this!

Second, we are still engaged in our mission and at work—this may be slightly different from our normal way of conducting business, but we are on the job, even as we adjust to supporting online learning, more teleconference and other meeting formats, working onsite with appropriate social distancing, working remotely for those who can continue their work responsibilities this way, and all the decisions and impacts of what work and activities continue, are delayed, or cancelled. As we also shift to sorting out childcare with public schools transitioning this week to closure, we will be making more adjustments and this will require further patience.

Finally, given all of the ways in which we are shifting our work and methods of work, I can’t say enough about the amazing response, commitment, great ideas and effort I have seen across our college as we adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances together. My personal message to each and every one of you is this: you are doing an incredible job through tough times! Keep up your amazing work—whether that is on the frontline of care, supporting those on the frontline, as well as supporting our learners and colleagues in a variety of ways.

Remember, if you are not as directly engaged in work in healthcare to suppress COVID-19, it is times like this that a smile or kind word—and we have the technology to do this safely!—makes a huge difference to someone who is anxious, frustrated, down. Your college, our province and our partners need each of us working supportively and together more than ever.

Thank you.

Impressive start to 2020 on many fronts

I just realized we are into March and I have not written a blog since early this year. We all hit the ground running in 2020, and as always there is a lot going on! I will highlight a few of those things in today’s blog, starting with great news on the research front.

We have the results of the most recent Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant and Catalyst Grant competitions. A number of our researchers have been successful.

Principal investigators (PI) awarded Project Grants for our college in the fall 2019 competition are:

  • Sylvia van der Hurk for her grant Long-term immune activation by a mucosal RSV subunit vaccine: mechanism of action and application to vaccination of elderly
  • Rachel Engler-Stringer and her co-investigators, including Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, for their grant Improving School Food: Universal Integrated Healthy Lunch Intervention Research

We also have CoM faculty leading or participating in Project Grants in other USask colleges:

  • Alexandra King, Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health, who is the successful principal investigator in a Project Grant held in the College of Nursing, which is also supported by Co-Investigators Maureen Anderson, Linda Chelico, and Erika Penz.
  • John Howland is a co-investigator in a Project Grant held in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition.

Many congratulations to the following individuals for their success in the Catalyst Grant competition:

  • Gary Groot and team for their grant Harm Reduction and Residential Supportive Care for High-risk Pregnant Women living with HIV: A Realist Evaluation
  • Brenna Bath, Dr. Stacey Lovo, and Dr. Veronica McKinney for their grant Patient experiences of health care access challenges for back pain care across the rural-urban continuum
  • Donna Goodridge and team for their grant Addressing Loneliness and Social Isolation: Building Bridges in Seniors’ Housing

This is a great way for our researchers to start off 2020! We are so proud of their work.

As I have previously noted we are in the process of reviewing our approach to admissions. At the same time, the AFMC has led the Future of Admissions in Canada Think Tank (FACTT) with whom I have had the privilege of working with in my role as Chair of the AFMC board’s Standing Committee on Education. There is great debate about tools like the MCAT and the MMI and great agreement on the need for diversity across all dimensions. However, even more fundamental discussions relate to how we find and admit individuals with an affinity for people and the internal drive to serve patients and communities.

Certainly, in undergraduate medical education, we are starting to think differently about admissions at Saskatchewan’s medical school. It’s important to note that changes in admissions processes would be applied with adequate time frames for applicant awareness of requirements, and any changes being considered currently would be in place at the earliest for the 2021/22 academic year.

In response to a recent external review, the college engaged a broad group of stakeholders from across the province to identify the core characteristics we want to see in our future medical students and the best methods to assess for these characteristics. The enthusiastic participants provided rich feedback and it was refreshing to see a lot of the same themes appearing over and over again:

  • promoting diversity
  • Indigenization
  • applicant strengths in both academics and emotional intelligence
  • evidence of a connection to Saskatchewan

In order to select students with this broader array of characteristics, stakeholders felt that we need to learn more about our applicants through a holistic lens and selection process. With all of this valuable feedback, Admissions Director Dr. Trustin Domes and his team will continue to engage with our partners and others in the college and will start the process of designing a progressive and innovative Admissions portfolio for our province’s medical school. Watch for a guest blog from Trustin as this work progresses.

Finally, in follow-up to my last blog, Dr. Marilyn Baetz, our vice-dean faculty engagement, and I have been to Regina, Prince Albert, and North Battleford where we met with learners, medical faculty and physician leaders. We received a warm welcome and appreciation of our interest in the work and activities taking place at all of these sites. There is widespread enthusiasm for the College of Medicine and distributed medical education (DME). We received feedback and suggestions for improvements, all of which were constructive.

The educational experience our learners are receiving in all of these communities is outstanding. There is clear need for further expansion of our Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (currently in Meadow Lake and Estevan) and, in Regina, our RCPSC programs. At the same time, we need to ensure communities have the capacity and resources to take on new educational programs.

In settings where the clinical load seems overwhelming it is hard to imagine taking on educational responsibilities. Of course, this is the typical dilemma where the educational programs are often the ultimate long-term solution to the clinical overload. On the other hand, the experience across the country with those not directly involved in DME is that they are soon asking why a learner has not been assigned to them! Research shows that those involved in clinical teaching have greater career satisfaction and are more likely to stay in their community; as well, there is widespread belief these physicians are more likely to achieve the right balance of innovation in practice and adherence to practice guidelines.

We have further site visits coming up in the next few months: Marilyn and I will be in Moose Jaw on March 26 and Estevan on April 30. Stay tuned for more news on faculty engagement in our college, which is being informed by these conversations across the province.

So as you can see there is a great deal going on at the CoM, and I have only scratched the surface in this blog. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Happy New Year and decade!

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the learners, faculty and staff at the CoM a happy New Year and decade! With all the hard work we have done in the last five years and the ongoing renewal, energy and enthusiasm I encounter every day, I believe the decade ahead will be one of extraordinary opportunity and success for our medical school.

I also extend New Year greetings to our partners and stakeholders, including our alumni (who have been very generous this past year) and donors (without whom we cannot thrive), and our partners at the university, in the health system and in government.

Before Christmas, I had noted that the move to A-Wing in the Health Sciences Building for our Saskatoon-based CoM administrative units was nearly complete. As many alumni will recall, A-Wing was the original CoM building. From a heritage perspective the beauty of the outside of the building is unchanged (other than new windows and landscaping), but the inside is new, modern and beautiful.

In keeping with the interprofessional and interdisciplinary ethos of our entire Health Sciences Building, the dean’s and administrative offices of Nursing, Dentistry, and Pharmacy and Nutrition are on the first and second floors of A-Wing. The Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research and the CoM’s Department of Biomedical Sciences office and IT team are on the ground floor. Our biomedical scientists, of course, remain in D-Wing and B-Wing and CH&E and CCHSA are in E-Wing. As the second biggest university college (or faculty) in Saskatchewan, we have a big footprint and we certainly appreciate our new and newly renovated facilities that support us in our work.

My office, the vice-deans of education, research and faculty engagement, and our chief operating officer, and most of their respective teams, are on the fourth floor in A-Wing and our undergraduate and postgraduate teams are on the third floor. The Division of Continuing Medical Education will be moving to the Health Sciences Building from their current space in Royal University Hospital (RUH). Most of our clinical department offices remain in RUH, our Regina campus is based in the Regina General Hospital, and of course we have administrative staff and leaders in other locations around the province.

On the medical education side, as many have heard me say, our campus is Saskatchewan and our medical faculty—nearly 1,900 strong!—inhabit our whole province. In that regard, Dr. Marilyn Baetz, our vice-dean faculty engagement, and I (and others) have plans to visit Regina, Prince Albert, North Battleford and Estevan in the coming months, and other locations as the year unfolds. We look forward to these opportunities to connect with you and hear your feedback.

Similarly, I invite you to come visit us here. This is your CoM and you are most welcome to wander through our new spaces and say hello when you are in Saskatoon. From many of our alumni, I have heard the comment that they are pleasantly surprised to come to what looks like their old stomping grounds on the outside and see how much has changed on the inside. As they know all too well, that change is similar on the curricular side! We are certainly a renewed College of Medicine in so many ways.

So please feel free to drop by. I am happy to show you around if I can, and others on our team are too!

As always, our door is open and I invite your feedback. Happy 2020!

Holiday greetings

I am sharing here a brief update on some activities and some highlights from around the college and the university before we embark on what I hope for all is a restful and rejuvenating holiday with friends and family.

As you may be aware, our USask president, Dr. Peter Stoicheff has been reappointed for a second five-year term. This is great news for our university as we continue to benefit from Peter’s strong leadership and its continuity. Peter has worked with and supported our college and I look forward to continuing this relationship.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to India for 10 days with Peter, and the dean of the College of Arts and Science, Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith, as well as other university colleagues, and my own superb guide, Dr. Anurag Saxena, our associate dean of Postgraduate Medical Education. We all participated in a two-day conference on post-secondary education where our president was a keynote speaker. The primary purpose of the trip was to explore potential collaborations, including student and faculty exchanges, and advance our reputation as a great place to study and advance one’s career.

Dr. Saxena and I visited four different medical schools, one other university, and a nursing college that Dr. Vivian Ramsden, one our Academic Family Medicine researchers, has collaborated with for more than 20 years. Overall it was a great learning experience and we hope it will advance our mission. A further plus: I loved the food, and even finished some dishes Anurag couldn’t!

On this note of collaboration, I would like to highlight one of the commitments of the university plan:

The second commitment in our plan is Boundless Collaboration. It ensures that we invigorate the impact of collaboration and partnership in everything we do through four strategic goals:

  • Enrich Disciplines
  • Align Structures
  • Embolden Partnerships
  • Experience Reconciliation

Now I would like to draw your attention to our CoM news website and the number of news stories that emphasize collaboration. There are many, including the collaborative opportunities with the new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, but first note the collaboration between our Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health, internal medicine specialist Dr. Alexandra King and biochemist, Dr. Linda Chelico, and this introduction to the story:

“Linda Chelico and Alexandra King genuinely like each other. It’s why they keep finding interesting ways to work together. That, and their mutual respect for the different expertise each brings to the union, plus their willingness to admit their own weaknesses and learn from one another.”

Another is a great story involving a respirologist, Dr. Julian Tam, and a physiologist, Dr. Juan Ianowski, with the introduction:

“Building their partnership took time and diligence, but from the start Juan Ianowski and Julian Tam liked each other and got along well. That made the difference. Together, they have overcome the inherent hurdles in partnering across biomedical science and clinical practice and achieved significant research success.”

There are many more great stories about our researchers, including neuroscientist and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) researcher, Dr. Valerie Verge, who was recently honoured at the 2019 Women Against MS Gala Luncheon. Epidemiologist, Dr. Nazeem Muhharjine, received the U of S Distinuished Researcher Award at fall convocation.

All of these researchers and many more demonstrate Boundless Collaboration and all four of the strategic goals outlined above.

I also draw your attention to the great work of our researchers recently recognized by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) at the 2019 Santé Awards in Regina. College of Medicine researchers took five of the eight SHRF Excellence Awards:

  • Kerry Lavender (PhD); Dept. of Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology— Top Establishment Grant: Biomedical
  • Paul Mick (MD); Dept. of Surgery — Top Establishment Grant: Socio-Health
  • David Kingston (PhD); Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) — Top Research Fellowship: Socio-Health
  • Francisco Cayabyab (PhD); Dept. of Surgery — Top Collaborative Innovation Development Grant: Biomedical
  • Juan Nicolás Peña-Sánchez (MD, PhD); Dept. of Community Health and Epidemiology — Top Sprout Grant

In other news, many of us in administrative and administrative leadership roles in Saskatoon have recently moved to the newly renovated A-Wing of the Health Sciences Building! The entire building project is now complete with the rejuvenated A-Wing, known by many of our alumni as the original College of Medicine Building. This space is now a truly inter-professional administration building, with the dean’s offices of the colleges of Dentistry, Pharmacy and Nutrition, Medicine, and Nursing co-located here.

Most of our Saskatoon-based CoM leadership and administration are now located on the third and fourth floors of the A-wing; this will support us as we advance collaboration and teamwork. I am particularly excited to have our research leadership team with us on the fourth floor and UGME and PGME close by on the third floor.

We have beautiful space which I hope you will have the opportunity to visit. I have changed up my own office with more inviting and informal seating, so you will have even more reason to drop by and provide me with your feedback on the college or anything else you might like to discuss!

On that note I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone—learners, faculty, staff and partners—for all that you have done for the College of Medicine in 2019. On behalf of myself, my wife Jane, and (of course) our dog Murphy, I wish each and every one  of you a wonderful holiday season filled with peace and contentment, wonderful meals, and special time with family and friends.

Exciting times in biomedical sciences

Guest blog by Scott Napper (Lead, Undergraduate BMSC Program Development)

New biomedical science (BMSC) undergraduate majors are on the way for May 1, 2020. Changes are coming for the honours, four-year and three-year degree programs.

For the honours and four-year degree programs, there will now be a single biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology major instead of two separate majors—biochemistry being one and microbiology and immunology the other, currently. As well,  the development of two new majors: cellular, physiological, and pharmacological sciences; and biomedical neuroscience, replace the current majors of anatomy and cell biology; and physiology and pharmacology.

The current three-year options in the separate majors in each of: biochemistry, microbiology and immunology; anatomy and cell biology; and physiology and pharmacology, will be replaced by a single, unified three-year degree option with the major of biomedical foundations.

Within these new majors, updated content, new classes and an enhanced priority on critical thinking and multi-disciplinary training will serve to better prepare our biomedical scientists of the future. The new majors were formally approved by University Council in Oct 2019. Current students will have the option to continue with their current program through completion (encouraged for those entering their third and fourth years) or transition to one of the new offerings.

A significant new experiential learning opportunity has been offered since 2018-19, when the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) classes were introduced. They are designed to provide students with an authentic research experience where they develop and test a research hypothesis. This is a considerable departure from traditional lab classes where students follow a prescribed list of experiments to gain competence in specific techniques.

Rather than prioritizing competence in individual techniques, CURE classes challenge students to think and function as independent scientists. On completion, students will be competent in the process of defining a testable hypothesis and designing experimental approaches to test the hypothesis. Students will also have gained valuable experience in planning and preparing their own reagents (substances or compounds added to a system to bring about a chemical reaction or to see if a reaction occurs), setting up and conducting experiments, budgeting of time and resources, scientific communication (both written and oral presentation) and being a productive member of a team.

The changes to our biomedical science program have generated considerable enthusiasm among our faculty and students. Enabling the success of our students ensures the success of our program, at the undergraduate level and in recruitment to our graduate research programs. In addition to higher-quality training, the new program—coupled with USask’s unique infrastructure, such as VIDO-InterVac and the Canadian Light Source—will attract more highly qualified students from across Canada.

A further benefit of these efforts to optimize the biomedical science programs is the closer working relationship growing between the CoM and the College of Arts and Science. The USask biomedical science program is somewhat unique in that the biomedical science departments are housed within the CoM, while the associated undergraduate degrees are offered through Arts and Science. Academically, each biomedical science major reflects nearly equal contribution of courses taught by faculty of each college. While the colleges have historically maintained a strong working relationship, recent united efforts by faculty and staff of both colleges have enhanced appreciation for the greater partnership opportunities that are possible. Ongoing collaborations between the colleges will further improve the program while epitomizing the priority in USask’s Plan 2025 of cross-college collaboration. In this regard, there are other exciting plans for the future!

A history of steady improvement and progress in USask’s biomedical sciences have aligned with these rapidly evolving fields of study. In July 2018, the five College of Medicine departments within the biomedical sciences merged to two departments. This new structure better supports collaboration and multidisciplinary work, as the perceived boundaries between the biomedical science disciplines are becoming progressively blurred. In 2009, a coordinated effort by all of the biomedical science departments resulted in the creation of a two-year BMSC platform that consists of six courses which provide a broad introduction to the biomedical science disciplines. This platform serves as a common foundation of all of the biomedical science degrees. Over the past ten years, the BMSC platform has been highly successful in providing students with a strong interdisciplinary foundation as well as enabling them to make informed decisions of a biomedical science major in their third year. The new platform will include seven common courses.

Excellence and the clinical/learning environment

Leadership Matters – Part III

If you have followed my last two blogs (Inspirational meeting and Equity, diversity and inclusion), you will know I recently attended the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Annual Meeting, Learn, Serve, Lead 2019, and wrote about the inspirational nature and content of the meeting. Many AAMC leaders and speakers spoke out strongly on issues of equity, diversity and justice and called leaders and faculty, staff and learners to activism and advocacy. My second blog in this series of three called on senior leaders to be accountable for advancing equity, diversity and inclusion.

Another theme at AAMC, as in past years, was the joint responsibility of medical schools and the health care system to provide an excellent clinical and learning environment for our medical learners, staff and faculty. I have spoken frequently about the fact the clinical environment and the learning environment are inextricably linked and the quality of care is reflected in the quality of clinical education and vice versa.

The speaker at the last plenary session was superb. Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, delivered an amazing talk, Fearless: Creating Psychological Safety for Learning, Innovation and Growth. A review of her biography documents her expertise in organizational learning, innovation and teamwork. Her most recent book is titled The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth.

Now I know, as does Dr. Edmondson, that psychological safety for some has become a buzz phrase, and some think it is being overused. So, early in her talk she reiterated what psychological safety was not: about being nice; touchy-feely; a license to whine; freedom from conflict; and so on. However, she used logic and evidence to clearly argue that there was no tradeoff between high standards and psychological safety, as illustrated in the following graphic, and argued that it is incumbent on all leaders to expect both excellence in work and excellence in the working and learning environment.

One of the key challenges in our environment is the historical and current hierarchy of academic medicine. In 2007, Darrell Kirch, AAMC president emeritus, called for academic medicine to move from a culture that was hierarchical, autonomous, competitive, individualistic and expert-centered to a different culture that is collaborative, team-based, service-based, mutually accountable and patient-centered. In this talk, Dr. Edmondson illustrated we still have a long way to go!

One fascinating illustration about the importance of leadership in determining the work and learning environment was a study she co-led (Making it safe: The effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams). Like any great speaker and scientist, she used evidence to link hierarchy to psychological safety to clinical outcomes. I am sure you all can picture this argument being built, but just to be clear, higher levels of hierarchy led to worse communication and teamwork and was associated with worse clinical outcomes as well as lower workplace satisfaction.

As one might expect, the study demonstrated overall significant differences of levels of hierarchy from physicians to nurses to respiratory therapists across the 44 neonatal intensive care units studied. However, further analysis revealed that some units were flat! That certainly also implies some units were even more hierarchical. (You might be interested in The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, copyright 2005. Recent events may belay that idea, but I digress!)

So, what was special about the units that were flat? Detailed analysis was done and many factors were considered. In the end, the only common factor in the units where the pecking order did not, in fact, exist was the presence of inclusive unit leaders. Leadership matters!

I need to clarify my ideas on leadership. By virtue of the organizations of which we are all a part, we have positional leadership. But much of what I have read about excellence in leadership in organizations is that leadership is something everyone does. The custodian on the word can change a clinical outcome by speaking up. The learner will challenge the consensus on teams and often be right.

For me, this study and Dr. Edmondson’s talk illustrate that all positional leaders must be inclusive, collaborative and must welcome feedback and dissent. More importantly, it illustrates the importance of front-line leadership and the importance for our patients and our learners that we provide inclusive, respectful, collaborative leadership.

So, as always, I invite your feedback here on my blog. I would also be happy to hear from you face-to-face, and would welcome the opportunity to attend your department or unit meeting and travel to your community.

See also:
Inspirational Meeting – Leadership Matters Part I
Equity, diversity and inclusion Leadership Matters Part II