A look back

Thinking back to early March of this year is more of a strain on the memory than it should be. So very much has happened in such a short time. It’s hard to believe that only four months ago, we were all heading into our normal places of work and study, visiting stores, restaurants, bars, all kinds of public places, often multiple times daily, without giving it a second thought.

The reality behind these changes remains of primary importance, of course. Many people became critically ill with COVID-19, and globally, the number who have died from it is staggering. The circumstances are grave, indeed. This blog is by no means a suggestion that we are out of the woods, or even on our way out of the woods. That is still some time away, and requires some pretty significant achievements in science, as well as continued changes in human behavior.

In this blog, though, I do want to recap some of the truly significant efforts and transitions that have been made at the CoM. Most of us don’t like change, and we tend to push back when it’s forced on us. So all that has happened in a few short months really is amazing, and in no small part is due to the incredible responsiveness of everyone on our team (and beyond!) in making some big, previously unimagined adjustments in your work, studies and lives. These times we’ve been through together have been tough, but we have pulled together and supported one another, and that’s made it easier than it might have been.

Toward the middle of March, and inside of less than a week, we went from communicating some early changes to campus activities at USask and our college, to sending almost everyone home. Our team planned and supported how we would shift what we could for our learners to remote access. Our Year 3 and 4 clerkship students were barred from clinical learning. While our Year 4 clerks were minimally impacted given the timing, our Year 3 clerks suddenly found themselves removed from almost all their learning. And what they did next was impressive and inspiring. They volunteered in multiple ways to help patients and healthcare workers, to do their part as best they could, outside of clinical medicine. They helped gather PPE, they played a big role in contact tracing, they supported isolated senior citizens, they fundraised for La Loche and other northern communities.

In postgrad, our residents continued to play their important dual role as learners and workers in our health system, in alignment with their level of training. Many volunteered to transition to other areas of care to support the greatest needs. Our learners received amazing assistance and support from our UGME and PGME teams, and many others.

Our medical faculty were also on the frontlines of care, ensuring that they, their teams and facilities were prepared. Researchers stepped away from important projects, many of which were critical to progress in tenure and their career path aspirations. Many members of faculty, and all of our staff suddenly found themselves working from home while trying to stay connected with one another and, remotely, keeping the college moving forward in our mission and our own important roles related to the pandemic.

Beyond all that, our team was part of many other initiatives: our faculty provided public health and medical expertise to support pandemic decision making; education and information was provided to the health system and beyond by our Continuing Medical Education Division; a new program of online support for people with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and spinal column injuries was offered; Dr. Hassan Masri provided weekly Facebook videos answering COVID-19 frequently asked questions; Dr. Carrie Bourassa was named Indigenous health lead for Canada’s national COVID-19 Immunity Task Force; Dr. Malcolm King assisted with improved mask design for pre-symptomatic COVID-19 patients; and Drs. Joyce Wilson, Kerry Lavender and Cory Neudorf received funding through the CIHR’s rapid response program for COVID-19.

Our research and graduate studies teams worked to support researchers and graduate students through changes and difficulties. We worked together to create an online spring 2020 graduation celebration that we hope filled some of the gap of our usual convocation and banquet celebrations. We found additional virtual ways to support and participate in PRIDE week.

These truly are among the most unusual times most of us have experienced. We have learned important lessons about what we can do when pressed, as well as things we could and should have been doing all along. Our return to a “new normal” needs to be thoughtful and we do need to embrace some permanent change for the better.

As we start a new term, we have gained valuable insights and experience that will guide our continuing efforts to lead improvements in the health and well-being of the people of Saskatchewan and the world.