Participants at the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) have overwhelmingly supported a motion that will foster a greater diversity of nominees for CMA leadership positions.
Members voted 91% in favour of adding ‘sexual identity, race, ethnicity, indigeneity and disability’ to the list of criteria the CMA Nominations Committee considers when reviewing candidate applications, in addition to age, gender and regional balance. Successful candidates are then presented to delegates for ratification at the AGM.
In addition, members voted to modernize the nominations process for leadership positions by removing the requirement that a set number of members (50) support each nomination. The change allows candidates to self-nominate and will help remove barriers to participation.
The CMA continues to work with members on new EDI bylaws for presentation and approval at the 2023 AGM.
Members welcome CMA’s first Indigenous president
In his inaugural address, CMA President Dr. Alika Lafontaine acknowledged that the health care system is collapsing but drew inspiration from his personal life to reassure members the situation isn’t hopeless.
Dr. Lafontaine shared with AGM participants that he was diagnosed in elementary school with a learning disability. After the initial devastation of the news, his parents realized the problem was as much with the system as biology. Rather than accept the opinion that their son might never graduate high school, they worked together as a family to find new resources and ways for him to learn.
Dr. Lafontaine believes physicians can use a similar approach to get through the current health care crisis – by leaning on one another for emotional and professional support, and by tapping into the knowledge of patients, nurses and other health professionals to create a better future of health.
Together we can shift the priorities of a health system obsessed with cost-cutting and patient volume, toward a sustainable health system that treats its providers with dignity, its patients with respect and prioritizes safety, quality and teamwork above all else.
Dr. Lafontaine also thanked outgoing CMA President Dr. Katharine Smart for her “authentic and fearless voice” during the last 12 months.
Tawnshi, Malo lei lei, good afternoon colleagues, honoured guests, family and friends.
To our outgoing President Dr. Smart, thank you for being an authentic and fearless voice over the last 12 months. You’ve taken us down uncharted paths as we walk towards an uncertain future. You were the voice we deserved and needed in these troubled times.
When I was in grade school, I was labelled with a learning disability. Without involving my parents, the school placed me in speech therapy. Months passed with little improvement. Becoming aware of the issue as it progressed, my parents requested a meeting with school administrators where they were informed that my diagnosis of developmentally delayed with a speech impediment was likely untreatable. All the dreams my parents had for me evaporated in that moment. I remember being in our vehicle after, my mother holding me in her arms telling me over and over again that I wasn’t broken.
My mother is a first-generation immigrant from the South Pacific Island of Tonga. She came to California as a teenager, not speaking English and was the first of fourteen family members and multiple extended families that my grandfather and her assisted in coming to America. My father grew up in a farming community in Saskatchewan called Lestock, inheriting his Metis, Cree and Ojibwe ancestry from my grandfather. He was the first person in his family to attend University and the first to obtain a Master’s. For years he taught, managed, and built knowledge transfer programs and was now confronted with a learning challenge he was told was without hope.
After the initial devastation of my diagnosis, my parents were left alone with the question of what to do now? Only they were left to carry the burden of fixing this problem that cut to the core of their hopes, dreams, and hearts.
Our health system is collapsing around us. Waitlists have transformed to multi-year queues. Community and hospital-based access is now so unstable that temporary or permanent closures are commonplace across the country. The sustainability of the generalist family physician has never been at greater risk than it is today. Around us the steady call for disruption, ever more cost-cutting and the dismantling of our publicly funded Canadian health system in favor of a privately driven replacement will surely reach a fever pitch in coming months. Canadian physicians are fighting a tide of growing fear, dissatisfaction, and anger from the patients we’ve dedicated our lives to serve. If you feel hopeless right now, you are not alone.
As I reflect on being the first Indigenous President of the Canadian Medical Association, and one of its youngest in its 155-year history, my mind and heart are brought back to that moment in my mother’s arms, reassuring me that the future written by accepted wisdom was not wise at all. I wish I could share with you a magic formula that my parents and myself applied, but it was actually very simple.
My parents acknowledged the feelings they were experiencing. They leaned into the fear, frustration, and confusion they felt in that moment. They asked themselves the question, who knows their child best? Is this opinion or fact? Did the solution match the problem? How could they work with me to iterate towards testing different solutions? What should their priorities be and what kind of child were they trying to raise?
My mother gave up her work life to invest hundreds of hours into my learning. She became involved in the community association and school board to corral resources from elsewhere. My father applied different teaching methods, recognizing physical barriers I had to visual and auditory learning. They placed me in Tae Kwon Do, they started a family musical group that became a two-decade experience in a boy band, and they assigned me the roles where I could have repeated exposure to public speaking. Years later I would be labelled gifted, graduating high school at 15, a bachelor’s by 19 and medical school at 23.
Colleagues, there is a template for us to apply to the chaos we experience daily. Lean into the negative feelings we’re experiencing through leaning on each other. Remind ourselves of the deep knowledge we have of these problems and of the opinions we will have to reshape in partnership with nurses, patients and other allied providers who are essential to team-based care. The Canadian Medical Association is focused on confronting the various problems that we face. Together we can shift the priorities of a health system obsessed with cost-cutting and patient volume at the expense of all else, towards a sustainable health system that treats its providers with dignity, its patients with respect and prioritizes safety, quality, and teamwork above all else.
Next week, the CMA is releasing the results of the 2021 National Physician Health Survey. It underscores how much the pandemic has damaged physician wellbeing.
Six in 10 respondents indicate that their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic; more than half of physicians and medical learners experience high levels of burnout; and nearly half of respondents are considering reducing their clinical work in the next 24 months.
And along with additional stresses of the pandemic, physicians are reporting bullying and harassment, high administrative burden and lack of professional fulfillment among other challenges.
As I take on the role of president, I want you to know you are important to me. Seeing your struggles, hopelessness and pain is why I ran to be CMA President. By serving you we amplify your ability to serve patients.
In the 155 years that the CMA has existed, there have been few times of greater uncertainty. With that uncertainty comes great opportunity because change is not only possible, but also necessary. The status quo is not an option.
Together we will rewrite the narrative of what it means to be a physician, how to better partner with patients and team-based care. We will build a future for healthcare in Canada.
Dr. Kathleen Ross voted new president-elect
A family physician in Coquitlam and New Westminster, BC, Dr. Ross will serve as president-elect until she is installed as president at the CMA’s AGM in August 2023.
In her address, Dr. Ross talked about working together to dismantle systemic racism and strengthen the health care workforce.
I commit to the challenge of working with health care and political leadership as we build a sustainable, accessible health care system together.