Canadian Medical Association

Dr. Kirsten Patrick in grey coat and glasses
Courtesy: Jennifer Pershick

A world that works for everyone.

That’s the mantra that has driven Dr. Kirsten Patrick over the last 25 years in the medical field — and she says an inclusive lens will be central to her new position as the first permanent female editor-in-chief in CMAJ’s history.

“My vision for the CMAJ is to reflect the best work being done to advance health equity, to make the world a healthier place for everyone,” says Dr. Patrick. “The journal has a role to play in generating knowledge that speaks to issues that affect health, like climate change, poverty and the indirect societal consequences of the pandemic.”

Dr. Patrick’s vision is informed by her experience as a doctor, editor and patient: she practised as a rural physician, anesthesiologist and researcher in her native South Africa and in the United Kingdom, has worked as an editor with both CMAJ and The BMJ and has interacted with three very different health systems in the countries in which she’s lived.

She says one of her priorities as editor-in-chief will be to tackle inequities inadvertently perpetuated by CMAJ itself. Though the journal has received much praise in its 110-year history, Dr. Patrick points out that it has also failed to publish on some important national health issues in a timely fashion. Only in the last couple of decades, for example, have experiences in residential schools been acknowledged as a determinant of health in the pages of CMAJ.

When her predecessor stepped down in March of last year, one of the first moves Dr. Patrick took as interim editor-in-chief was committing CMAJ to an anti-racism agenda. The journal is actively recruiting more diverse voices to join its editorial team, its advisory board and a new patient advisory panel.

“What we can do is change the power balance and change the conversation. Change the people who you draw in to be stakeholders in the CMAJ that influence what comes out of the journal.” — Dr. Kirsten Patrick, CMAJ editor-in-chief

Dr. Patrick has provided leadership during a time that required nimble and rapid publishing of COVID-19 content to support physicians and policy-makers. In 2021, the journal continued to receive higher rates of submissions than before the pandemic. It fast-tracked 38 articles online, in addition to its regular issues.

“Managing that extra workload and keeping the CMAJ team healthy and not burned out has been a challenge,” she explains. “But we’ve watched health workers step up through these endless waves of COVID-19 and CMAJ Group have been inspired to do our part.”

As she begins her new mandate, Dr. Patrick knows the journey toward a more inclusive medical journal won’t be without missteps. In December, CMAJ faced a backlash after it published a letter that many readers considered Islamophobic. The journal quickly retracted the letter and Dr. Patrick issued a formal apology in which she committed to better representation of Canada’s Muslim community on CMAJ’s advisory bodies and addressing editorial bias. She promptly arranged anti-oppression training for all CMAJ Group staff members.

“We have work to do to identify structures and ways of operating that cause harm and to take steps to address them,” she says. “It’s hard work and we will sometimes fail at it, but it’s something I will work on for my entire tenure as editor-in-chief.”

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