Physicians have a clear advocacy role

Physicians are duty-bound to advocate for the health safety of the people of the communities they serve. It is in the Code of Ethics and Professionalism (Physicians and Society – clauses 37-44) of the Canadian Medical Association, and it is represented in three of the seven CanMEDS roles: health advocate, leader and professional.

It starts in medical school, where we teach advocacy to our students. So it is ingrained in all physicians from early in their training that as professionals they have an important role in advocating for the good health of not just their own patients, but the general public, as well. I believe that we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Our medical doctors are fulfilling their ethical obligation to the public through their advocacy and guidance on our pandemic response. And it seems reasonable that our doctors would be supported in this. For the most part, my experience has been that we doctors are supported in this advocacy role.

But as Saskatchewan struggles in this fourth wave of the pandemic, I am seeing more and more comments and conversations that suggest a lack of understanding of this professional duty of medical doctors. I think of the many physicians on the front lines of care, as well as public health experts and physician leaders, who, on top of all their other work, are doing media interviews—sometimes on a daily basis—to ensure that important information on the pandemic and how to stay safe reaches the public. Their efforts are heroic and deserve our support.

It’s a year since the Maclean’s magazine opinion piece by Canadian physician and writer Dr. Jillian Horton, about “staying in your lane” and the need for doctors to “flood the freeways,” was posted. She reminded us that non-objection is tantamount to silent agreement. As physicians, our role as health advocates compels us to voice our concerns, and I applaud our physicians, physician leaders and medical health officers for their advocacy and leadership through these incredibly hard recent days and weeks, and from the very beginning of this pandemic.

I also want to acknowledge the extensive advocacy and knowledge sharing efforts of our public health experts, epidemiologists and scientists. I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you, as well as all healthcare workers on the front lines of care, including our medical faculty, students and residents, for all you have done and are doing.

5 thoughts on “Physicians have a clear advocacy role

  1. Doctors should advocate, but they should leave politics out. Too many have an angry agenda against the government. Construct suggestion is the goal. Not hyperbole.

    • I think I agree with this sentiment and do fully support advocacy with professional knowledge and understanding. I think the challenge for doctors and the general public when looking upon that advocacy and misconstruing it for political moves etc. It is unfortunate but it does come from an erosion of trust, whether warranted or not, the general public has lost faith and trust in medical sciences thanks to misrepresenation of the scientific process and findings while creating sensational click-bait articles. Perhaps it is a healthy dose of skepticism but there is a fine line between that and complete mistrust. It will take some time to heal and recover but COVID-19 and the way some medical professionals came out initially to support anti-mask political agenda probably did a lot more harm now that people are understanding that such basic health measures are indeed very critical and important.

  2. Preston,
    Bless you! Keeping silent has fueled so many tragedies, and physicians especially should be heard and seen in this dangerous time!

  3. Physicians, by the very nature of their profession, are advocates for the best possible care of their patients. Increasingly, and no doubt appropriately, it is being recognized that such advocacy by physicians should address not just individual patients but also the healthcare system and the social and societal context in which we all live.

    As part of a collective, our individual health, the health of our healthcare system, and that of society at large is a common concern for all of us.

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