Canadian Medical Association

Thank you, Dr. Collins, for your leadership over the past 12 months during what has been one of the most challenging and dramatic times in recent history. You worked tirelessly in our new virtual world to support the profession and patients across the country. I hope one day soon we can meet each other in person!

I am speaking to you today from the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dunn First Nation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council. I make this land acknowledgement with the recognition it must come with action toward real change that honours Indigenous Peoples as the caretakers of this land we now call Canada.

As we have begun to emerge from the pandemic, the country has awoken to the horrors of the residential school system and the long-lasting impacts of intergenerational trauma. Indigenous leaders across the country are calling on us to acknowledge the past and build a different future. I commit to continued learning, action and two-eyed seeing in my work as CMA president.

Indigenous teachings tell us to know someone you must know where they come from. I am the daughter of Jim and Marilyn Smart from Swift Current, Saskatchewan where I grew up continuously curious about who and what was beyond my small community. My great grandfather was an adventurer and a settler who came to Canada in the early 1900s to establish ranches in Treaty 4 territory that was then known as the Northwest Territories and is now known as Saskatchewan. Today, I find myself situated in Yukon where he once ventured during the gold rush. I believe I inherited his curiosity of spirit and a desire to learn about people and places.

Growing up, one of the central teachings in my family was that you are always happiest when you are doing something for someone else. This combination of curiosity and commitment to service has led me to practise medicine all over Canada and the world. South Africa, Nunavut, Northern Manitoba, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Calgary, Laos, Uganda, Australia and now Yukon. It has been my privilege to meet so many exceptional people along this journey that has led me to this opportunity to serve you, my colleagues, as CMA president.

As we move through our careers in medicine, I think it is important to reflect on why we are here and the purpose of our work. From the beginning of my medical career my passion has been advocacy and service to patients and populations that are too often overlooked by Canada’s presumed universal health care system. Some of my earliest experiences as a medical student and then as a paediatric resident opened my eyes to the critical role social factors play in health. Now, 20 years and thousands of patients later, that belief has only strengthened as I continue my journey of learning about the constant intersection between who we are, where we come from, and how those aspects of our story define our health and wellness.

My interest in health equity was sparked early in my career and the opportunity to improve services for children and youth in Canada’s North lead me to Yukon where I have been fortunate to build a paediatrics program based in the concepts and values of social medicine. Our practice is rooted firmly in advocacy for patients and like many of you this advocacy is a key component of my work.

This past year the pandemic has amplified two things for me. First, there are far too many people in Canada who never get a fair chance to live a healthy life, and the need to rectify this imbalance is more urgent than ever. Secondly, as Dr. Collins highlighted, the spirit of advocacy and speaking up is alive and strong within our profession. Each day I have felt pride and admiration watching so many Canadian physicians step up and speak out for patients. Your voices and tireless work have saved thousands of lives and created what I believe to be a movement to re-define health, health care and medical culture in this country.

We can no longer accept the status quo on so many issues — who is in the room when decisions are made, a system that leaves patients behind, inadequate access to services such as primary care, continuing care, pharmacare, mental health supports, housing and a living wage. We can no longer wait to implement the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — Indigenous children and families deserve access to safe health care and to no longer experience the impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma. We cannot wait to take steps to avert the climate disaster to which the health care sector is a contributor.

I am here today because these are the issues that matter to me and through my work with the board over the past year and the release of our new strategy, I look forward to championing them, working with all of you. I am committed to collaborating, to hearing your voices, to raising your concerns and to fighting alongside you to build a health care system that values physicians, honours our voices and keeps us healthy while delivering the type of care our communities need.

I would like to thank my husband, Curtis, and children, Nyah and Luca, for supporting me to take on this role. I am honoured to have this opportunity to direct my passion for advocacy in the service of our profession and patients. Thank you. Mashi Cho.

Dr. Katharine Smart, CMA President

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