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Two candidates for presidency face off in CMA's first-ever Twitter debate

Elections for the CMA presidency may never be the same after the two candidates seeking to become president-elect for 2013-14 embraced social media in their attempts to reach out to voters.

One watershed moment occurred on Jan. 25 when Dr. Abhishek Narayan, a family medicine resident at McMaster University, organized a "Tweet chat" in which the candidates - child psychiatrist Gail Beck of Ottawa and cardiologist Chris Simpson of Kingston, Ont. - answered questions and engaged in online debate using Twitter's 140-character maximum.

Voting for the new president-elect began in mid-January and will conclude Feb. 27 at 5 pm EST. (Elections are held according to a pre-determined rotation cycle involving the 12 provincial and territorial associations that form the CMA. This year, CMA members belonging to the Ontario Medical Association [OMA] will be nominating the president-elect. See also "Two Ontario MDs seeking CMA presidency")

Beck and Simpson have both been using social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to reach out to the 30,000-plus potential voters. In the last year, Ontario has witnessed an upsurge in the number of doctors using Twitter, especially among OMA leaders, medical students and residents, as well as those involved in advocacy issues such as refugee health.

Narayan said he organized the pre-election Twitter chat because "having received the traditional mailer with candidate information and a ballot, I found myself quite uninformed regarding the broader range of topics at play."

During their Twitter debate, Beck and Simpson responded to members' questions on issues such as health equity, health human resources, mental health and member engagement. Other physicians offered personal comments, adding #CMAelect to their tweets to ensure that the comments were seen by those following the discussion.

When discussing equity, Simpson noted that "the achievement of 'health' will require so much more of us than simply delivering 'health care.'" Beck said she would continue to work on the CMA's health care transformation agenda related to the social determinants of health, but would add child poverty as a concern.

Asked how they would promote mental health in youth, Beck tweeted that she would recommend "spending time together, recording personal stories, having special places, CELEBRATE. Keys to building stronger families."

Simpson noted a recent article by musician David Clayton-Thomas that described "how a punished youth in the correctional system is taught that no one cares. His account is a moving condemnation of what we do to displaced youth."

Asked how the CMA can improve member engagement at all levels, Simpson applauded the work it is already doing through social media. Beck said "engagement = listening," and also discussed increased use of social media and the CMA's e-panel to reach members.

Dr. Anne Ellis tweeted that she was "so glad to see a live tweet chat discussing topics relevant to health care in Canada in advance of the president-elect vote." Dr. Rajiv Singal added: "Social media has inspired a whole new level of member involvement."

Asked for final statements, Beck commented: "I will continue to make CMA stronger, so Canada's MDs can lead Health Care Transformation AND care for patients." Simpson tweeted: "I derive a great deal of satisfaction from bringing disparate groups together to find common ground en route to noble goals."

Narayan described the event as "a great success, leading to a very interactive one-hour discussion on a variety of topics from physicians across the country.

"This Twitter townhall was a first for the CMA, and I hope that we were able to start something that the CMA can continue to do in the future to reach out to its members at all levels of training, and from far and wide."

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