The Power of Advocacy and Civic Professionalism

“Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale. Medicine as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution; the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution” – Rudolf Virchow

It can be pretty easy to be cynical these days. Polarized politics in the United States has led to “fake news” and a new culture of political double-speak that many are calling the “post-truth” era. Here in Ontario, we are witnessing a particularly nasty fight between the Ontario Medical Association and the provincial government. In hospitals across Canada, we struggle with continuous “Code Gridlock” in an environment of increasingly restricted resources. True health care reform seems as far out of reach as ever.

And so it is nice sometimes to reflect on our successes; to shine a light on those in our midst who are providing positive, inspired leadership, driven by the noble ideals of the profession.

I have long admired Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer, our Head of Oncology here at Queen’s. Her voice around leadership tables is always so thoughtful and reflective, yet decisive. She is poised and eloquent, but also quite tenacious and driven. Most importantly, however, her heart is always in the right place. She is an authentic physician leader whose long list of achievements has not dulled her inner passion for doing the right things for the right reasons. People trust Elizabeth.

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So it was not surprising to me when, about three years ago, she landed in my office with all of her trademark enthusiasm on display, declaring that she had come up with a “wonderful idea”.

That is how the Canadian Tobacco Endgame Summit was born. We talked for two hours, becoming increasingly excited about an idea whose time had come: mapping out a plan to chart the end of tobacco in Canada – a national end-game.

What happened next was truly remarkable, and I had a front row seat to the whole thing. Off the side of her desk, Elizabeth assembled a steering committee of key experts in medicine, tobacco control, law; representatives from the regulatory bodies, numerous stakeholder NGOs (including the CMA) and others. She secured funding, organized meetings, and planned the end-game summit. What makes all this so remarkable, I think, is that it was readily apparent to me and to all that no one but Elizabeth would have been able to pull this off. She is indefatigable. She is relentlessly positive and optimistic. She brings genuine authenticity as a sincere advocate who is doing this from the heart, but also tremendous credibility as an internationally renowned cancer researcher and respected medical leader. When she asked people to do something, they did it for Elizabeth more than they did it for the project. No one wanted to disappoint her. Her vision was clear, and no one doubted for a moment that what we were doing was something very special.

She is an inspiring figure; one who cloaks her brilliance in humility, who leads by example, whose eloquent oratory always seems to capture all the nuances of the moment and keeps everyone motivated and focused.

The very audacity of declaring that a tobacco endgame is something that Canada would be even remotely ready for had all its sharp edges filed down as Elizabeth exercised her highly effective personal leadership style, gently persuaded and chided, and leveraged her considerable intellectual assets.

The summit was a tremendous success. The participants were a “who’s who” of tobacco control, public health, and medical leadership, including Dr. Laurent Marcoux, the CMA President-elect. The background paper can be found here: Tobacco Endgame Summit

“Less than 5 by ’35” was the summit’s rallying cry – we aim to reduce the national smoking rate to less than 5% by 2035.

Last week was the icing on the cake. The federal government announced that it is redoubling its efforts in tobacco control (Seizing the Opportunity: The Future of Tobacco Control in Canada), launching public consultations enroute to a renewed plan that will aim to reduce smoking in Canada to less than 5% by 2035.

Inspired leadership. Powerful advocacy. Meaningful impact. Dr. Eisenhauer serves as an effective antidote to all the cynicism and negativity of our times by personifying civic professionalism at its very best.

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