Canadian Medical Association

It was very unexpected.

The opening keynote speaker at this month’s International Conference on Physician Health, Dr. Tony Suchman, finished his presentation with a group sing-a-long of Kumbaya. I had a flashback. When I first started talking about physician health and wellness six or seven years ago, people would often roll their eyes and ask sarcastically: “What are we going to do, sing Kumbaya?” I used to even include a slide in my physician health presentations to reassure the audience that I would not ask them to hug, hold hands or sing. Now, I was at an international conference where more than 500 people from 16 different countries were happily singing Kumbaya. It was very unexpected and shows how far we’ve come when talking about physician health.

When I began to chair the Doctors Manitoba Physician Health and Wellness Committee back in 2012, physician health was not considered important. Self-care attitudes and behaviour − looking after oneself – were not common. Many still had the attitude that if you needed to take time off because you (or your kids) were sick, you were unorganized, weak or unprofessional.

It was often lonely being that person banging the drum of physician health but in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by just how far we’ve come. Back then, many people were unaware of the International Conference on Physician Health and this year, we sold out well ahead of time. Medical culture still isn’t perfect, but more and more physicians, and our organization, are acknowledging the importance of our health and wellness.

In fact, much of the feedback coming out of the event was around how safe participants felt in talking about their experiences – without fear or judgement. We heard how many of the “system” problems and solutions are local. We heard how important it is to have leadership and culture align with our values. We heard how physicians want change.

And the CMA is working on that change. We recently hired a new Vice-president of physician health and wellness to explore what we can do at the system level, and we released a statement affirming our commitment to physician health and wellness. After our national launch of the first results of the CMA National Physician Health survey, we’re working on the next set of data, and planning for the next Canadian Conference on Physician Health in St. John’s next fall. 

The International Conference on Physician Health is just one example of how the CMA is looking to contribute to physician issues at the global level. With our recent resignation from the World Medical Association, we’re exploring how else we might play a role on the international stage, and we’re asking you for your advice and guidance. The CMA is absolutely committed to representing Canadian physicians internationally and we're very excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead for members. Wherever we land, we’ll ensure our work at all levels continues to meet the highest ethical and professional standards.

Physician health and wellness matters. And although banging that drum seemed lonely at first, it's exciting to see how many people have heard it and are talking – and walking – to the same beat. The CMA’s work in this area will continue to grow and I’m so excited to be working on it with all of you.

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