Leading in an uncharted future
As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic crested in many parts of the country, the annual Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership, aptly named “An Uncharted Future,” was held on 26–29 April 2021. This virtual gathering gave delegates a forum to refresh their leadership skills and discuss the post-pandemic future.
It was a testament to the Canadian medical profession’s commitment to the values of leadership that more than 450 people attended the totally virtual conference hosted by the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders (CSPL) and the Canadian Medical Association’s Joule, despite many suffering from Zoom fatigue and the stress and the anxiety of dealing with the pandemic. Top
The conference featured six outstanding keynote speakers, 21 workshop sessions, and four in-depth masterclasses as well as opportunities to network. The conference was accredited by both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and this year delegates were able to choose between four different tracks; wellness and medical culture, digital health, leadership, and health features. The conference was chaired throughout by CSPL president Dr. Rollie Nichol who also chaired the conference planning committee.
“I am pleased to see the breadth and depth of topics on the conference agenda, from core physician leadership to digital health, wellness and medical culture, and the future of health — all areas of critical importance as we navigate these uncharted waters,” CMA President Dr. Ann Collins reflected during her introductory remarks for one session. Top
Many of the sessions were created to support physicians in their ongoing need for social and practical information, and many participants selected “feel good” workshops or those dealing with how to survive. A masterclass hosted by Dr. Jill Horton, who recently wrote We are All Perfectly Fine,1 delved deeply into just these issues. Although they were unable to share the usual coffee breaks and other direct person-to-person interactions, delegates still had an opportunity to feel a sense of belonging at a welcome reception and virtual cocktail hour.
In her keynote address, former CSPL president and president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ontario, Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, provided a wealth of insights on physician leadership as she traced the various phases of her leadership journey. Top
“Diversity, inclusion and engagement,” which was the formal theme of the last CCPL conference in 2019 was continued by certain presenters at this year’s conference, such as Dr. Faisal Khosa, associate professor at the University of British Columbia, who discussed existing disparities in academic medicine and how to overcome them.
In his plenary address, Dr. Brian Hodges, chief medical officer at the University Health Network in Toronto, specifically referenced some of the learnings that have come from dealing with COVID-19 at arguably the heart of tertiary care medicine in Canada. Dr. Hodges noted that he and his team had learned many lessons from helping support long-term care homes during the early phase of the pandemic and in helping to operate a mobile vaccination clinic earlier this year. Top
Sessions on digital health allowed a variety of perspectives on one of the most radical shifts in practice caused by the pandemic — the move to virtual care. Dr. Alexandra Greenhill provided a rapid-fire overview of the exponential changes occurring with medical technology, while Dr. Tasleem Nimjee talked about the way the Humber River Hospital is transforming hospital care with the “command centre” approach to using data and delivering digital care. As an early adopter of digital health, Dr. Mark Dermer was well-positioned to trace how he saw digital care evolving after the pandemic.
A long-standing tradition at the CCPL is the formal debate on a high-profile issue, and this year’s conference closed with an outstanding panel discussing whether medicine is a calling or a job. Drs. Sandy Buchman, Melanie Bechard, Victor Do, and Susan Shaw each delivered heartfelt perspectives from the positions they had been assigned in a debate that was well-received by delegates.
“It’s in my soul, in my heart, in my DNA,” said Dr. Sandy Buchman, past-president of the CMA and expert in palliative care, in arguing for medicine as a calling. For her part, Dr. Susan Shaw, chief medical officer in the Saskatchewan Health Authority stated, “I see medicine as my job and something I am very passionate about, and my calling is to make the world a better place.” Speakers on opposite sides of the debate came together with a common view that physicians need to know what is important to them and to not allow the system to take advantage of their altruism. Top
The conference also saw Drs. Douglas Bell, special advisor to the CEO at the Canadian Medical Protective Association, and Neil Gibson, associate zone medical director, Acute Care Coverage, Edmonton Zone, Alberta Health Services, receive the CSPL Excellence in Medical Leadership (Chris Carruthers) Award. Dr. Karen Shaw, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, was also acknowledged as the 2020 winner, as no conference was held last year because of the pandemic.
As an additional bonus for registering, delegates have been able to access recorded sessions for three months after the four-day meeting concluded, allowing the learning to continue as we track toward the next CCPL conference scheduled for 6–7 May 2022 in Toronto.
1.Horton J. We are all perfectly fine: a memoir of love, medicine and healing. Toronto: HarperCollins; 2021.
Pat Rich is an Ottawa-based writer and editor.