(With apologies to my all-time favourite cartoonist, Bill Watterson).
I just returned from an amazing trip to Whitehorse, where I joined my colleagues from the Yukon Medical Association for their annual general meeting.
YMA President Dr. Ken Quong, a Yukon-born and bred family physician, took me aside the night before during an event at his home. He told me that really wanted to see the Association begin to focus on serving patients better by understanding their lives better. By that, he means that we, as physicians, need to look beyond organs and diseases and begin to help with the things that matter just as much in people’s lives – nutrition, housing, poverty reduction, and education. In the Yukon, where the social determinants of health figure prominently (especially in First Nations communities) as contributors to overall health, there are many challenges. Dr. Quong challenged his colleagues to think about this new professionalism and about political advocacy.
Dr. Quong, shown here with Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski and CMA Board member Dr. Rao Tadepalli, asked the Premier pointed questions about a housing strategy for the Yukon during the meeting – emphasizing how important it is for the health of people to have a decent roof over their heads. Don’t just consider vacancy rates as a measure of success, Dr. Quong told the premier. Vulnerable people need quality, low-cost housing options.
I was inspired by Dr. Quong’s “call to arms” on these broader issues because it resonates so nicely with CMA’s position on the social determinants of health and is exactly the kind of leadership we are trying to demonstrate in our national organization. Our 2013 report, Health Care in Canada: What Makes Us Sick? reflected on the extensive consultation we had with Canadians in a national town hall series, and has profoundly influenced my views on the role doctors must play, in the political and advocacy spheres, on these broader issues of health.
CBC Whitehorse was kind enough to invite me to their morning program and I was able to re-emphasize some of these key points, along with CMA’s call for a national seniors’ strategy. Here is a shot of me in the studio on Friday morning, just as we were about to get underway:
The full audio transcript of the interview can be found by clicking here.
One of the highlights of the YMA meeting for me was the opportunity to meet Justice Murray Sinclair, shown below as he addressed medical delegates at the Yukon Convention Centre.
Justice Sinclair is the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On Friday evening, he spoke eloquently about a man he called “Norman”. You could have heard a pin drop in the room as he told the cradle-to-grave story of a First Nations man who, after suffering horrific physical, sexual and psychological abuse at a residential school, went on to a life of crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and as an abuser himself. Though he sought forgiveness as his life approached its end, it was not granted. And the cycle continues.
Doctors across Canada can be a powerful voice for our most vulnerable patients. Understanding who they are and what their lives are like informs our advocacy efforts for greater health for all Canadians.