Planning and hope

My first message to you with this blog is that I hope you are finding ways to stay well in body, mind and spirit through these uncertain times. For our learners, staff and faculty, know that our college is here to support you as you adjust to learning and working in different ways.

I want to share a few articles I’ve read in the past few days that I found helpful. I think they are valuable reminders of our shared purpose regarding COVID-19, as well as the amazing resilience and strength of the human spirit. Perhaps these resources will provide you with some additional knowledge, strengthened resolve, and some peace from knowing what you can and are contributing to this extraordinary global effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.

I’m impressed by those individuals advocating loudly for the public health measures that are absolutely needed to get us through this. This week I was pleased to see a group of medical leaders come forward with all of the right points about public health measures through this opinion piece in the New York Times. An emergency doctor in Ontario appealed to people who still believe their lives should go on as usual through this CBC story. And of course, the many stories of people safely singing from their balconies to cheer on and thank our healthcare workers, and provide cheer to one another.

All kinds of information is coming out around efforts at predicting and planning for how we will be impacted in Saskatchewan by the pandemic. Minister of Health Jim Reiter made what I consider a very correct statement when he said he wanted to have the worst-case scenario.

As the saying goes, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” (from author Lee Child). So absolutely we must be planning for the worst-case scenario to do our best to manage this evolving pandemic. Saskatchewan has brilliant population health experts and scientists working on solutions and excellent physicians leading teams in providing the best care possible. Planning and preparing are critical and our province is doing that.

Now to the other part of that quote, I turn your thoughts to hope, and another article about two Italian physicians I read in the Globe and Mail recently. They are in the thick of the world’s most intense COVID-19 battles. While the article outlines dire circumstances and realities, it also reminds us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit I referenced earlier. Hope is the fuel that will keep us going so we can each continue to do our part in this crisis.

What I am seeing around me gives me hope. Amazing efforts in planning, care and research. And I see every day how our team at the CoM and others are connecting virtually to support one another through these times. I see you reaching out with empathy, humour, offers of support. We need to keep doing this.

One other thing I am reading right now is excellent science-based information about COVID-19 from our own experts, and others. It’s being organized and compiled by our Division of Continuing Medical Education and you can find it on their web page: CME | COVID-19: Resource Center.

Finally, I will say it again: please do all in your power to stay well. It is the greatest help we can give healthcare workers and everyone we care about at this time.

Pulling together

I have just a few brief and very simple messages I want to share with you.

First, as we make our way through the COVID-19 situation, everyone is impacted and it is understandably unsettling. We are adjusting and learning on the fly as we adapt to a new reality in our important work of teaching and learning, research and community engagement. The importance of working together and supporting one another through this can’t be overstated, while at the same time ensuring we are doing that in appropriate ways given the need for social distancing.

As I mentioned in earlier messages to you in recent days, we need to be patient with each other and as supportive as we each can be. Our medical faculty and our residents are on the frontline in clinical settings helping deliver patient care and we all have an important role in ensuring we do the right things to not increase the burden on the healthcare system—the basics of cleanliness and social distancing measures you are all familiar with now. Please, everyone, do this part diligently!

As well, some helpful information for self-care has been posted on Twitter by Dr. Tamara Hinz, on faculty in our Department of Psychiatry. Thank you, Tamara, for this!

Second, we are still engaged in our mission and at work—this may be slightly different from our normal way of conducting business, but we are on the job, even as we adjust to supporting online learning, more teleconference and other meeting formats, working onsite with appropriate social distancing, working remotely for those who can continue their work responsibilities this way, and all the decisions and impacts of what work and activities continue, are delayed, or cancelled. As we also shift to sorting out childcare with public schools transitioning this week to closure, we will be making more adjustments and this will require further patience.

Finally, given all of the ways in which we are shifting our work and methods of work, I can’t say enough about the amazing response, commitment, great ideas and effort I have seen across our college as we adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances together. My personal message to each and every one of you is this: you are doing an incredible job through tough times! Keep up your amazing work—whether that is on the frontline of care, supporting those on the frontline, as well as supporting our learners and colleagues in a variety of ways.

Remember, if you are not as directly engaged in work in healthcare to suppress COVID-19, it is times like this that a smile or kind word—and we have the technology to do this safely!—makes a huge difference to someone who is anxious, frustrated, down. Your college, our province and our partners need each of us working supportively and together more than ever.

Thank you.

Impressive start to 2020 on many fronts

I just realized we are into March and I have not written a blog since early this year. We all hit the ground running in 2020, and as always there is a lot going on! I will highlight a few of those things in today’s blog, starting with great news on the research front.

We have the results of the most recent Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant and Catalyst Grant competitions. A number of our researchers have been successful.

Principal investigators (PI) awarded Project Grants for our college in the fall 2019 competition are:

  • Sylvia van der Hurk for her grant Long-term immune activation by a mucosal RSV subunit vaccine: mechanism of action and application to vaccination of elderly
  • Rachel Engler-Stringer and her co-investigators, including Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, for their grant Improving School Food: Universal Integrated Healthy Lunch Intervention Research

We also have CoM faculty leading or participating in Project Grants in other USask colleges:

  • Alexandra King, Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health, who is the successful principal investigator in a Project Grant held in the College of Nursing, which is also supported by Co-Investigators Maureen Anderson, Linda Chelico, and Erika Penz.
  • John Howland is a co-investigator in a Project Grant held in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition.

Many congratulations to the following individuals for their success in the Catalyst Grant competition:

  • Gary Groot and team for their grant Harm Reduction and Residential Supportive Care for High-risk Pregnant Women living with HIV: A Realist Evaluation
  • Brenna Bath, Dr. Stacey Lovo, and Dr. Veronica McKinney for their grant Patient experiences of health care access challenges for back pain care across the rural-urban continuum
  • Donna Goodridge and team for their grant Addressing Loneliness and Social Isolation: Building Bridges in Seniors’ Housing

This is a great way for our researchers to start off 2020! We are so proud of their work.

As I have previously noted we are in the process of reviewing our approach to admissions. At the same time, the AFMC has led the Future of Admissions in Canada Think Tank (FACTT) with whom I have had the privilege of working with in my role as Chair of the AFMC board’s Standing Committee on Education. There is great debate about tools like the MCAT and the MMI and great agreement on the need for diversity across all dimensions. However, even more fundamental discussions relate to how we find and admit individuals with an affinity for people and the internal drive to serve patients and communities.

Certainly, in undergraduate medical education, we are starting to think differently about admissions at Saskatchewan’s medical school. It’s important to note that changes in admissions processes would be applied with adequate time frames for applicant awareness of requirements, and any changes being considered currently would be in place at the earliest for the 2021/22 academic year.

In response to a recent external review, the college engaged a broad group of stakeholders from across the province to identify the core characteristics we want to see in our future medical students and the best methods to assess for these characteristics. The enthusiastic participants provided rich feedback and it was refreshing to see a lot of the same themes appearing over and over again:

  • promoting diversity
  • Indigenization
  • applicant strengths in both academics and emotional intelligence
  • evidence of a connection to Saskatchewan

In order to select students with this broader array of characteristics, stakeholders felt that we need to learn more about our applicants through a holistic lens and selection process. With all of this valuable feedback, Admissions Director Dr. Trustin Domes and his team will continue to engage with our partners and others in the college and will start the process of designing a progressive and innovative Admissions portfolio for our province’s medical school. Watch for a guest blog from Trustin as this work progresses.

Finally, in follow-up to my last blog, Dr. Marilyn Baetz, our vice-dean faculty engagement, and I have been to Regina, Prince Albert, and North Battleford where we met with learners, medical faculty and physician leaders. We received a warm welcome and appreciation of our interest in the work and activities taking place at all of these sites. There is widespread enthusiasm for the College of Medicine and distributed medical education (DME). We received feedback and suggestions for improvements, all of which were constructive.

The educational experience our learners are receiving in all of these communities is outstanding. There is clear need for further expansion of our Saskatchewan Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (currently in Meadow Lake and Estevan) and, in Regina, our RCPSC programs. At the same time, we need to ensure communities have the capacity and resources to take on new educational programs.

In settings where the clinical load seems overwhelming it is hard to imagine taking on educational responsibilities. Of course, this is the typical dilemma where the educational programs are often the ultimate long-term solution to the clinical overload. On the other hand, the experience across the country with those not directly involved in DME is that they are soon asking why a learner has not been assigned to them! Research shows that those involved in clinical teaching have greater career satisfaction and are more likely to stay in their community; as well, there is widespread belief these physicians are more likely to achieve the right balance of innovation in practice and adherence to practice guidelines.

We have further site visits coming up in the next few months: Marilyn and I will be in Moose Jaw on March 26 and Estevan on April 30. Stay tuned for more news on faculty engagement in our college, which is being informed by these conversations across the province.

So as you can see there is a great deal going on at the CoM, and I have only scratched the surface in this blog. As always, I welcome your feedback.