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Medical Matters – Working towards change for the better, together

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February Messenger 2021, Medical Matters | Posted February 9, 2021

This past year, I have heard from many physicians and Albertans about the lack of equity, diversity and inclusion in Alberta’s healthcare system and the impact that racist and discriminatory behaviours have had on so many Albertans. Below, I have included some examples of real issues that are impacting us on a day-to-day basis. We all have a part to play in making our system better, and the first step is accepting the reality that these are serious issues that must be addressed by all of us.

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to participate in a national discussion on anti-Indigenous racism in health care. The two-day discussions were a follow-up to an urgent meeting held in October to address racism experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada’s healthcare system. The meeting in October was called in light of the tragic events surrounding the death of Joyce Echaquan. It addressed the reality that what happened to Joyce was, sadly, not an isolated case. In an ideal world, every physician in Canada should have participated in these powerful and enlightening discussions. The sharing and openness to discuss some very difficult problems in the healthcare system was the beginning of what I expect will be a long, but necessary, journey. The conversations were an eye-opening experience to the reality that we can’t just tinker with the existing system if we want to affect real change. We need innovative thinking and action to create a future where racism is nonexistent in the healthcare system.

February is also Black History Month. This is a time for us to celebrate the incredible contributions of Black Canadians in all walks of life. While there is a great deal to celebrate, we also have a great deal to reflect on, including the need to address racism experienced in our healthcare system. The reality is that many physicians and Albertans are exposed to racism and discrimination in our healthcare system every day. One example of many is the Hearing Tribunal decision for the case of Dr. Wessels’ actions in Grande Prairie, which are published in this issue of the Messenger. The decision from the Hearing Tribunal was released a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve heard from many Albertans and physicians that they are, to say the least, disappointed with the decision that stated there was insufficient evidence to prove Dr. Wessels’ actions were racially motivated. I understand people’s anger, and I recognize that many of the people involved have been hurt by this decision as have many in the greater BIPOC community. There is no question that CPSA has a great deal to learn from this case, as does everyone in the medical profession and the entire healthcare system. I can assure you, CPSA is going to use this as an opportunity to learn and grow as an organization. In fact, this month our staff will be starting unconscious bias training. This is the first step of many as we work to understand CPSA’s role in systemic racism and discrimination.

You will also see in this issue of the Messenger that CPSA Council President, Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, was recently interviewed by Dr. Kim Kelly about equity, diversity and inclusion in medicine. This was an opportunity to understand another bias within the healthcare system; the bias against women in medicine and specifically women in physician-leadership roles. I thank Dr. Kelly for bringing forward her questions and concerns and for advocating for greater equity diversity and inclusion in health care. Going forward, this topic will be discussed with CPSA Council to understand Council’s role and how Council can impact positive change in this area. I also thank our President for having the conversation with Dr. Kelly. Even though these conversations may be uncomfortable at times, they are required if we are going to make any real changes.

CPSA has an important role to play in addressing racism and discrimination in the medical profession and the greater health system. I commit to you that we will learn from all these events. I also recognize that sustainable change will only come if we all do something every day, we can’t just regulate our way out of this. We can’t just put rules in place then punish those who don’t meet expectations. Let’s work together and talk to each other. Educate yourself and your colleagues, and be aware of when your words and actions might be unconsciously bias or inappropriate. The privilege of self-regulation is not just about CPSA. It is about every single physician in Alberta doing what they can to make a positive change.

CPSA adopted the CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism, but I think it’s time to simplify things even more. This is the time to embrace the simple concepts of kindness and compassion in medicine. Sometimes, the smallest gesture of saying thank you, or recognizing someone for the great work they do, is enough to change a person’s day for the better. Treating everyone around you, regardless of colour, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religious belief or economic status with respect and dignity makes everyone’s lives just that much easier. We’re not going to fix our problems overnight, and the system also needs change. But as a wise Indigenous physician-leader said last week, “systems are made of organizations and organizations are made of people. All of us, as people, can make a difference. We just need to start.” Let’s start right now. I challenge everyone to find a way to bring a little kindness and compassion to those around you every day. Together, we can make meaningful change in our healthcare system and our society.


3 Responses

  1. Norman Yee says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  2. Dr. Rick Zabrodski says:

    Every first year medical student I have ever interacted with over the past 40 years demonstrated respect for the patients in my clinic. They clearly had the capacity to be both kind and compassionate. We need to be brutally honest regarding what we then did to them over the next 3-5 years to understand where we went wrong as a profession.

    • Scott McLeod says:

      Good morning Dr. Zabrodski. Thanks for providing your comment. I agree we need to understand that better. There is something that’s happening in a physician’s training, early career and beyond that we need to address. I suspect that the more we senior doctors do to bring compassion and kindness into our daily work the more it will rub off on the younger generation and help set them up for a better future, but I recognize a great deal of this is the result of system level issues. Scott