Have a safe and peaceful holiday season

I would dearly have liked to be writing a different holiday message from the one I shared last year. But as you know, circumstances continue to be quite similar to that time, with a few important exceptions. Most of us are at least double vaccinated and some triple vaccinated, now, and we have also gotten much better at following our other important pandemic safety measures.

With the Omicron variant spreading in alarming fashion in the world, we do need to continue to be cautious. Physical distancing, wearing masks, keeping our bubbles small along with making use of rapid testing are all in our tool kit and we are certainly becoming experienced users of all of them! So my first and foremost message to you is to continue to be diligent about pandemic safety measures.

If we each make this important commitment, we will also help alleviate the heavy burden being borne by our healthcare workers. And that’s who my second message is for: to our learners, faculty, staff and all on the front lines of care: we are thinking of you, our college supports you, and across research, teaching and clinical settings we continue our important work to alleviate and solve the challenges of this pandemic.

I thank the entire College of Medicine team—all our learners, staff and faculty—for all your efforts of the past year at a time when I know you were managing change and uncertainty both in your work and personal lives. Together, we have ensured that the CoM has moved forward on delivering education and training, an impressive range of discovery through research, and on prioritizing equity and diversity. I thank you for supporting one another through this and staying committed to our medical school vision and mission.

I wish you and yours a safe and peaceful holiday season, and that all find time to rest and step away from the concerns of the world.

Amidst adversity – courage, empathy, resilience and hope

Guest blog by Dr. Anurag Saxena, Associate Dean, Postgraduate Medical Education

In this guest blog I wish to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on residency programs—particularly on residents. Imagine a resident who has just finished an overnight call after a day’s work and is called back to provide coverage because other colleagues are either sick, or have tested positive for COVID, or are not available for other reasons. Or, imagine a resident who could not complete a critically important learning experience out-of-province because of travel restrictions and now may not complete residency on time. These stories are real and true for many residents.

Since the beginning of the pandemic nearly two years ago, our residents’ well-being and learning have been adversely affected. In addition, increased demands for clinical care—sometimes beyond their residency programs—have been placed on them. This has meant navigating turbulent changes to their residency, including reduced access to some learning experiences (e.g., reduced opportunities for procedural competencies and off-service rotations, and canceled mandatory and elective learning experiences), uncertainty around national examinations, concerns about on-time completion of their residency, and licensure.

At the same time, they were asked to engage in increased provision of clinical care within and beyond their programs (additional work, increased and back-up calls, re-deployment) while also working through the system of ensuring personal protection (PPE, vaccination). The adverse impact on personal well-being is hard to assess, but it has been immense when you consider areas like personal risk, and negative impact on physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, environmental, occupational, and spiritual well-being. These impacts were experienced while adjusting to pandemic-related, external and required measures. I am sure every resident has at least one story they are likely to pass on to the next generation!

Throughout this period, our residents have demonstrated courage and empathy in caring for patients,  while engaged in their own learning and bravely attending to their own well-being. It has not been easy and we cannot count on individual resilience alone—and we know that.  Our residents have told us that their primary level of support comes from within their own residency programs, followed by the PGME office. We will enhance our efforts in our programs and through work with individual residents to ensure we provide meaningful, proactive measures and responses that are based in care and concern.

Although the number of COVID cases in Saskatchewan is on the decline, we are not out of the woods yet, and other pent-up demand will need to be attended to. We are all in this together and this is not the time to give up. When the intensity of the work decreases (we hope soon!) and possibly an easier pace can be achieved, there will be more time to assess the impact of the damage to well-being. This will be a high-risk period when it will be critical to look after ourselves. We all need to reflect and heal and not succumb to the accumulated stresses of these incredibly challenging years.

The responses from our people at various levels—programs, sites, central academic and administrative units, senior leadership, internal and external stakeholders—have been stellar examples of acting with thoughtful stewardship. Under the most trying of circumstances, the agile reactive responses and pre-emptive efforts to stay ahead of demands and challenges in healthcare and residency training sometimes involved changing course, while at other times it was necessary to hold steady as we went through severe turbulence.

Thank you to our program leaders (program, site and associate directors), administrators, department heads, and CBME personnel (Competence by Design leads, Curriculum Committee chairs and members, and academic advisors) for your remarkable efforts in holding the course. Our program leaders have ensured training was delivered through: innovations, utilizing non-clinical learning experiences and COVID and patient-oriented research; on-time completion of residency; and flexible approaches to manage challenges related to redeployment.

The transition to virtual care and virtual learning, and increased use of simulation, has not been easy and continues to be refined. The high intensity work involved in the accelerated CaRMS match process is worth noting. Our postgraduate program directors and program admins ensured fairness of the selection process while adapting to virtual interviews and compressed timelines. No one has buckled under pressure. The courage demonstrated in holding the line on protecting residents from excessive clinical demands speaks to true, people-oriented values and the need to integrate the dual aspects of patient-centeredness and learner focus.

The educational offerings from the central PGME office have continued. We have deliberately looked after: refining the programs to meet needs; improving the rigor of the virtual boot camp for new residents; our quality improvement program; RAPID program; referral program; and the recently adopted TIPS program. Further, the PGME team is working on expanding and increasing the relevance of program director and program administrator workshops and chief resident workshops.

Some leadership aspects have been essential to our journey through this. The senior leadership (both academic and administrative) at the College of Medicine (CoM) has been immensely supportive, trusting and proactive in ensuring work for long-term vision. The changes to policies and flexible approaches to affect systemic aspects (increased funding especially for well-being supports, including but not limited to counselling, and food while on COVID-related call), carryover of leaves and vacations, payout of unused vacations/leaves) were possible only with the trust and support of the senior leadership at the CoM and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). The leadership at Resident Doctors of Saskatchewan (RDoS) and the joint work between RDoS and PGME has been an example of purposeful collaboration and unearthing that our interests are same. The collaborative work with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, the SHA, and the national colleges has been instrumental in managing risk, adapting to situations often in a very short timeframe and ensuring public accountability. The support and decisions from the Ministry of Health, the primary funders of PGME, have been timely, agile and undergirded by care and compassion.

Throughout, we have also managed to steadfastly hold our long-term focus for postgraduate medical education in Saskatchewan, as well. I will provide more details of that important work in a follow-up guest blog early in the new year.



CoM strategic plan renewed to 2025

Extensive work went into the creation of the CoM’s inaugural five-year strategic plan, released in 2017. The collaborative process was a first for us, and was highly successful in engaging so many—across our entire college and from stakeholder and partner organizations—to articulate the plan. Our 2017-2022 plan has served us well, and we have made progress in several key areas, specifically: we’re seeing strength in those foundations of faculty engagement and enablers, and in our research deliverables, and with all of our education programs fully accredited.

As we renew that plan to take us to 2025, which aligns with the university’s planning timeline, college leadership have acknowledged and agreed that much of the original content remains relevant to our ongoing strategic planning approach. With that in mind, we have updated the plan with small but significant changes in its content, to guide our work over the next three to four years. You can see this updated information reflected on the college’s strategic plan webpage. Here, I will highlight some of what has changed in this updated plan.

While the pillars on which we all work continue, as always, to be education and research, we are more concretely identifying the critical role of our social obligations in truly achieving success. The areas of our social obligations we have identified in the renewed plan encompass: Indigenous health; equity, diversity and anti-racism; social accountability; and growth and stability of Saskatchewan’s rural and remote physician workforce.

As we head into 2022, our context has changed, and we need to focus and carry out work in these areas, and respond to what our society needs from us—not only through the lens of a post-pandemic world and our role in helping meet Saskatchewan’s healthcare workforce needs, but through our acknowledgement as a college and society that we can’t claim success or achievement when we leave whole segments of people out and do them harm.

The leadership team of our college agrees that more concrete and intentional planning is needed to ensure we meet our important social obligations as Saskatchewan’s only medical school.

What hasn’t changed, is that our faculty, staff and learners—our team—is the foundation from which we will achieve success in these areas, as well as across our strategic directions. We have reduced the total number of strategic directions – our top priorities – from nine to seven. Those strategic priorities are: Strengthen Research Capacity; Quality Education; Social Accountability; Indigenous Health; Faculty Engagement; School of Rehabilitation Science; and Enablers. Two of the original priority areas—Distributed Medical Education and Health System Alignment—are positioned within Quality Education and Faculty Engagement, respectively, in the renewed plan. This approach enhances our strong commitment to our top priorities and will help us work together to achieve the best outcomes for our college.

A huge number of our faculty, learners and staff, as well as many members of partner organizations, helped us create our original plan, launched in 2017. That work, and the more recent work to renew the plan, has our college on solid footing as we head towards 2025. Thank you, team!

I hope you will take a few minutes to look through the updated strategic plan web page. As always, I welcome your feedback.