2018 priorities and challenges

One of the things I love about university life is that we have not one but two annual opportunities to reflect on our work, evaluate our priorities, and reignite our passion for what we do—every new academic year and every new year. So, first, let me wish all of our learners, faculty, staff and partners a happy, prosperous and productive 2018. My year got off to a great start with one of my favorite events of the academic year: speaking to the Med 2 class on leadership as part of a panel discussion on the CanMED roles.

As I reflect on the upcoming year, I remind myself and all of you that we have already talked at length about our collective priorities and we proudly presented that high level strategic plan to our peers during our recent accreditation review. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear more as we add detailed goals, objectives, actions and metrics to our five-year strategic plan, as well as on how it aligns with the university’s strategic planning process currently underway.

To start, I want to ensure you know my thoughts for 2018. First, let’s recall our mutually agreed vision and mission statements, which underpin all we do, followed by my reflections on our priorities for this year.

Vision: We are leaders in improving the health and well-being of the people of Saskatchewan and the world.

Mission: As a socially accountable organization, we improve health through innovative and interdisciplinary research and education, leadership, community engagement, and the development of culturally competent, skilled clinicians and scientists. Collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous peoples and communities are central to our mission.


Strengthen Research Capacity – 2017 ended with some good news for research. Dr. Stuart Skinner in Regina received a $2 million CIHR team grant, with total project funding of $4.65 million, for on-reserve diagnosis and treatment of HIV, HCV and sexually-transmitted disorders with a goal of building a First Nations led initiative that meets community needs and integrates Western and Indigenous approaches. The team is composed of almost 50 researchers, clinicians, policy makers and knowledge users with about half being Indigenous community members. At the 2017 Santé Awards Evening, hosted by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), MS research was a top focus, with Dr. Michael Levin, U of S Chair in Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Research, speaking about his work, and an MS patient shared her very moving story and her hopes for the future. Also at the Santé Awards, Dr. Cory Neudorf, Community Health and Epidemiology, received the SHRF Impact Award for his research on the effects of socio-economic status on health, and its dissemination to decision-makers, health boards, and regional committees.

In the biomedical and population health sciences, we have enjoyed great success in securing research funding, including through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), with $2.3 million and nearly $1.5 million awarded, respectively. Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine is co-leading a team awarded $16.5 million from the national Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development to increase maternal and newborn survival in Mozambique. These are only a few examples of the great work and achievements of our population health and biomedical scientists in 2017!

We need to continue building on these and other successes, however, and with some major progress made on things like the new MD curriculum and accreditation, I know I must put more of my attention to research. In that regard, I must emphasize what a big year it will be for our biomedical science departments. Under great leadership from Drs. Jo-Anne Dillon and Scott Napper and the hard work of many people great progress has been made on both the merger to two departments and the new biomedical sciences program. You will be hearing much more shortly.

Indigenous Health – Again, 2017 ended with the arrival of our Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health, Dr. Alexandra King and our new faculty member, Dr. Malcolm King, in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. There is much more to do in responding to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Specifically, I think of work on the best structure and resources within the CoM to fulfill our commitment to this priority, engagement with our Indigenous communities and lots of work on Indigenous curriculum and research, and recruitment of Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Integration and Alignment with the Health System – The Saskatchewan Health Authority was launched on December 4 and the CoM has been an integral partner. My own role on the SHA board will consume some of my time and I am sure will be exciting and rewarding. The authority has committed to both physician leadership and the academic mandate, and our provincial heads (formerly unified department heads) will be critically important as the authority works toward its provincial goals of Better Health, Better Care, Better Value and Better Teams.

Faculty Engagement – Much progress has been made with our move to One Faculty. One of the very positive comments by our accreditation visiting team was about our “engaged and enthusiastic faculty.” Credit goes to many, and Dr. Keith Ogle has provided us great leadership as vice-dean faculty engagement. Unfortunately for us, his new home in Golden, BC, and retirement beckon, so key for us this year will be the recruitment of a new vice-dean faculty engagement. Talk to me!

Social Accountability and Community Engagement – We continue to do great work in this area, and as social accountability has long been a strength at the CoM, this year we will be submitting an application for an ASPIRE award. The ASPIRE program recognizes international excellence in education in a medical, dental or veterinary school.

Education – A big promise to our learners throughout accreditation is that it was not a one-time event. We are committed to continuously improving the quality of our education programs and the student experience. Key topics on my mind this year are student wellness, Competency-Based Medical Education in PGME, growth in our use of medical simulation for education, and faculty development.

Distributed Medical Education – Exciting work is already well underway for the establishment of longitudinal integrated clerkship opportunities in our UGME program. With one provincial health authority in the SHA, we have an opportunity to standardize resources and support for DME throughout the province.

Enablers: We identified three key categories of enablers: people; partnerships and relationships; and organizational capacity. Related specifically to this priority, in 2018 I will be focusing on three components:

  • Strategic Plan – As noted above our plan needs much more detail if it is to effectively guide us over the next five years, and we must also define how it aligns with the plan, led by our provost, that the university is developing.
  • Diversity – Accreditation highlighted for us that while we have had some success in this area, there is lots of work to do to enhance diversity among our leadership, faculty and staff. I look forward this year to the activities of our Diversity and Inclusion Working Group.
  • Financial Stability – I must admit that while the highlight of the holidays for me was family, there is little doubt that second place went to seeing oil top $60 per barrel. I had no idea as dean I would be following the price of oil, potash and uranium, as well as the crop report. So be it!

As there may still be confusion about the current financial situation at the CoM, I want to ensure all understand three key messages. First, there is no new windfall of resources available to the CoM—the $20 million in funding returned to the CoM budget in September was excellent news, but there was no additional funding beyond that. Second, while we have made considerable investment over the last three-and-a-half years (and thus our cost base has risen), our expenditures have been exactly what we have told our funders both in our annual budgeting process and the five-year budget projections we have presented to government three times now: in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Finally, while we are all too aware of the fiscal challenges faced by our university and our government, I must emphasize the incredible support we have had from our university leaders and colleagues in government in our work to secure the necessary resources to continue our transformation and be the best medical school we can be.

So, it’s important that you know there will again be a challenging budget process and some tough choices to be made this year. I am told that is what Saskatchewan people have done forever, but I also focus a little bit on the rising price of oil!

On a personal level, 2018 for me will be about family (I got to put together a train set for my grandson Max at Christmas), books (I highly recommend Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk), photography (but no new lens purchase this year) and, of course, running (I signed up for the Boston Marathon again and I have a new training program!).

Again, happy New Year to all—and it would be wonderful in 2018 if more of you took me up on my offer to hear your feedback.