I had the privilege to do the introduction and welcome at this week’s Health Innovation and Public Policy Conference.  I joked that I loved the words, “student-led” because I was confidant it would be high-quality with little work on the college’s part! Well, I had no idea how right I was.

This got me reflecting on the huge contribution our students make to the College of Medicine and the magnitude of the student-led activities here at the U of S. First let me comment on the conference and then come back to our students.

This was the second annual Health Innovation and Public Policy Conference and my only regret is that I missed last year’s conference. This is entirely a student-led initiative. As I noted that day, Honorable Rona Ambrose, Canada’s  Minister of Health, has created an Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation.  Just these past two weeks, I have worked with my fellow Deans at the AFMC to prepare a brief for that panel. I think we could have asked the U of S students to do it for us.

The quality of the speakers at the HIPPI Conference was remarkable. Dr. Chris Simpson (another Maritimer and graduate of my alma mater) who is President of the CMA, spoke of the need for transformational change that moved the system from being all about doctors and hospitals to one that was truly patient-centered and sustainable. I believe our CMA has become a national leader in calling for system change focused on the patient.

Dr. Karima Velj, President of the Canadian Nurses Association, had very complimentary messages and spoke of inter-professional care and expanded roles for healthcare providers.

Dr. Gary Bloch, a family doctor with an inner-city practice in Toronto, spoke eloquently about the need for doctors to go beyond taking a socio-economic history and treat poverty like it is a disease.

And to cap the event off, we had excellent speakers from the U of S with Dr. Veronica McKinney providing a vivid description of the healthcare challenges in our North and the good work of Northern Medical Services.  Dr. Ivar Mendez described meeting some of those challenges in our North with remote presence technology.  It was a remarkable afternoon capped off with an excellent panel discussion.

Back to our students.

All medical schools have bright students and great student leaders.  However, I think the initiative shown by our students here at U of S is more than above average!

I attended the One Health Leadership Experience late in August, which is a conference for students from all of health sciences colleges on campus.  This is sponsored by the Veterinary College and the Council of Health Science Deans and led by WCVM Dean, Dr. Doug Freeman. The speakers were amazing but the turnout and enthusiastic participation of students on the last free weekend of their summer was quite overwhelming.

In early September, the Student Medical Society organized the 11th Annual Miles for Smiles.  This fun walk/run event took place in both Saskatoon and Regina, with all proceeds going to support the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan.  Although I was unable to attend personally, I understand the cool, rainy weather did nothing to dampen spirits or speeds!

On September 18, student volunteers from our School of Physical Therapy participated in Shinerama, the largest post-secondary fundraiser in Canada, which raises money for Cystic Fibrosis research and treatment. Our School has been involved in Shinerama since 1966. The students involved in Shine Day went out in the streets of Saskatoon and on the U of S campus bringing in donations by shining shoes, singing songs, dancing, and doing whatever they could to raise money for CF research and treatment.  As a profession that helps treat symptoms in Cystic Fibrosis patients, it has always been an important fundraiser. This year our campaign raised $29,474.54 for Cystic Fibrosis research!

I attended part of the Hacking Health Saskatoon weekend late in September.  In their words: “Hacking Health is designed to improve healthcare by inviting technology creators and healthcare professionals to collaborate on realistic, human-centric solutions to front-line problems. Our hackathons are fun, intense, hands-on events where small teams tackle tough problems in a supportive community of peers and mentors.”

Medical and other health professional students worked all weekend with computer science, business and engineering students to create technical solutions to health care problems.  Hacking Health is a national and international movement and at the conference this week one of its students leaders lobbied and convinced Dr. Simpson that the CMA should become a sponsor. It was health innovation advocacy in action and a beautiful thing to watch!!

Back in October, I was also privileged to attend another entirely student-led event, the Global Health Conference.  It was the third annual gathering and this year was focused on immigrant and refugee health.  Saskatchewan has a growing number of newcomer families, and health is a key factor in successfully settling and integrating people into our communities.  Speakers discussed language and cultural barriers in our health care system and challenges related to lack of resources, coordination and cross-culturally trained health care workers.  The event was a prime example of inter-disciplinary work and social accountability.

Of course SWITCH, is a long standing student-led initiative supported by faculty members that provides both learning and care by students from all health professions at the Westside Community Clinic.  “SWITCH was created by students in order to enrich educational experiences and to provide much needed services for Saskatoon’s core neighborhoods.”  Please visit  to learn more. Our College has a national reputation as a leader in Social Accountability and our students play a big role in that reputation.

In summary we have an amazingly active student body who are doing great work that matters.  Dr. Chis Simpson commented on the “civic professionalism” of our students and the hope that he has for the future of our healthcare system because of the energy, values and advocacy that the students of today will bring to the workplace.

I believe he is right.