Volume 8 no 1

EDITORIAL: Compassionate leadership fosters equity, diversity, and inclusivity

Sharron Spicer, MD, FRCPC, CCPE


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Compassionate leadership fosters equity, diversity, and inclusivity

Sharron Spicer, MD, FRCPC, CCPE


If ever there was a need for compassion in health care, it is now. The far-reaching effects of pandemic-induced suffering have reached epic proportions for our patients, our colleagues, and our entire society. Compassion is at the heart of what we do. It is one of the core virtues of our professional identity. According to the CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism,1 “A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.”


Compassion is well understood in the physician–patient relationship. More recently, increased attention has been given to the role of compassion in health care leadership. Leading with compassion involves appreciating the unique and important characteristics of those we lead and serve, modeling respectful and inclusive behaviours, and encouraging others to develop their advocacy and leadership roles. Not surprisingly, therefore, compassionate leadership advances issues of equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) within the organization. Top


I’m pleased that, in this issue of CJPL, we have curated encore and new articles that address principles to enhance compassionate EDI-focused leadership. In a book review of Compassionate Leadership by Michael West,2 Johny Van Aerde notes the author’s four steps for increasing compassion: attending, understanding, empathizing, and helping. Using this framework, we can see the value of revisiting historical events to identify and shift the mistreatment of certain groups. For example, in this issue, authors Shapiro, Levy, and Sommers describe how teaching about the Holocaust can enhance awareness of modern ethics principles in medicine. It is sobering to recognize the roles that physicians played in perpetuating systemic racism in Nazi Germany. Closer to home, recent events have further revealed the systemic racism — past and present — that affects Indigenous people in this country. Sadly, the health system is directly implicated in some of these abuses. A Canadian Medical Association (CMA) produced film, The Unforgotten,3 shares the experiences of Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples at various life stages and at different times in history. It is an excellent resource to spark reflection and conversation about creating needed changes in the health care system. As West’s model suggests, attending to and understanding such events prepares the ground for change.

Compassion is deepened as we respond to others’ experiences with empathy. Often, this emotional response is evoked with first-person narratives about lived experience. We honour those who share their stories when we listen with curiosity, recognize our biases, and suspend judgement based on our own beliefs. We have included in this issue a number of first-person accounts of physicians addressing their own self-identified areas of diversity. I hope you take time to ponder their reflections.


Finally, to be effective, compassion leads to action. In this issue, we have provided an adaptation of the CSPL’s interview with CMA President-Elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine.4 He eloquently expresses how his leadership journey developed through a series of opportunities. In moving from advocacy to leadership, he realized the importance of filling the space with others. I would consider that to be a great lesson in EDI-based leadership! We have also included in this issue articles that address practical steps to support specific physician groups: women, those who identify as LGBTQ2S+, those with disabilities, and physicians across the age span. We have further highlighted the importance of ensuring leadership diversity in crisis management. Top


Like a forest regrowing after a fire, we have opportunities to see post-pandemic transformation arise in the aftermath of this COVID-19 experience. For us to achieve growth in personal, professional, and organizational realms, we would be well guided to ground ourselves in compassionate leadership.



1.CMA code of ethics and professionalism. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2018. Available:  https://tinyurl.com/a2n5n5zb

2.West MA. Compassionate leadership: sustaining wisdom, humanity and presence in health and social care. London, UK: Swirling Leaf Press; 2021.

3.The unforgotten (film). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2021. Available: https://theunforgotten.cma.ca/

4.Interview with Dr. Alika Lafontaine, parts 1 and 2. Ottawa: Canadian Society of Physician Leaders; 2020. Available: https://physicianleaders.ca/podcasts.html



Sharron Spicer, MD, FRCPC, CCPE, is a pediatrician at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, and medical advisor in Professional Affairs with the Alberta Medical Association. She serves as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership.


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