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Physicians facing complex leadership challenges

Canadian physicians are well positioned – and willing – to help lead in transforming what has become an increasingly complex health care system.

That was one of the main messages that came through clearly at the Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership held recently in Vancouver.

The conference was the sixth and most successful to date for the co-sponsoring Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Society of Physician Executives (CSPE, now the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders).

More than 450 physicians attended the two-day conference, and 200 attended PMI courses prior to the main meeting. In addition, more than 120 medical students and residents were invited to participate in some of the proceedings.

CMA President Chris Simpson, who provided opening remarks, said the success of the conference “is a testament to the increasing number of physician leaders in Canada.

“Its popularity also highlights the value of taking time out of our busy schedules to identify the challenges we face as physicians and acquire the necessary tools to face these challenges head-on.”

With the theme of this year’s meeting about thriving in complexity, several speakers provided insights into why today’s health care system is so complex and outlined strategies for organizations and individuals to lead effectively within such a system.

Dr. Denis Roy, vice-president of scientific affairs for the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, Montreal, drew on his extensive personal experiences in managing health care programs in the province to explain why community-based physicians have to look beyond evidence-based medicine and clinical practice guidelines to effectively help patients.

Roy noted that the growing number of older patients with multiple, chronic conditions makes it impossible to effectively treat patients by relying on the myriad of single-disease-focused guidelines.

The most anticipated and well-attended session was a staged debate about whether physicians actually impede transformation of the health care system.

While CSPE President Dr. John Van Aerde said the fact such a debate was possible shows how much the medical profession has evolved over the past 20 years, views expressed were still felt to be sensitive enough that delegates were requested not to post tweets during the session.

During the debate, CMA past president Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti and Leslee Thompson, the president and CEO of Kingston General Hospital, who had been asked to argue that physicians are an impediment painted a picture of a profession that remains self-centred, focused on income and highly protective of its turf.

“We’re experiencing the demise of the medical profession right in front of our eyes,” was one comment made.

They were countered by Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO of the Vancouver Island Health Authority, and Roy, who argued that Canadian physicians are leading with innovative change but are often blocked by authorities unwilling to include them in the decision-making process.

Workshops at the meeting provided delegates with a variety of informational and self-improvement topics from non-verbal communication to use of social media.

One workshop highlight was the opportunity to hear Dr. Jeff Blackmer, VP of Medical Professionalism for the CMA, provide an update on the regulatory environment surrounding physician-assisted dying in Canada and the CMA leadership in this area.

At the CSPE business meeting held in conjunction with the conference, it was announced that the association name was being changed to the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders in order to better reflect the association’s membership.

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