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Dr. Susan Shaw brings clinical experience to the SHA boardroom

Dr. Susan Shaw’s career path has seen her move back and forth from the bedside to the boardroom.

But whether she is working as a clinician or an administrator, the goal is the same – providing the best possible care for patients.

“I was lucky,” said Dr. Shaw, who was appointed last fall as Chief Medical Officer with the new Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). “I trained in Saskatchewan and I crossed paths with many physicians who demonstrated to me that physicians can make significant contributions in many ways, whether it be at the bedside or by helping design or plan clinical programming, or whether it’s even in a system leadership role.”

She says she received plenty of encouragement to push herself in challenging, new directions. Each role, including her new one, has been a different way of caring for her patients.

“That’s why I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve had the opportunity and the exposure to what the benefits are to being a clinician, and being someone who can step into a different role and still bring all the knowledge and the skillset and the experience of being a clinician into a boardroom or a meeting room or to a planning team.”

Front-row seat to change

Dr. Shaw began her job on December 4, 2017, the day the SHA began operations as the single health organization for the province, replacing the 12 previous regions. She was previously a Director of Physician Advocacy and Leadership with the Saskatchewan Medical Association. She has served in various health leadership roles in Saskatchewan, such as board chair of the Health Quality Council and physician co-lead for the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative. In 2017 she received the prestigious Dr. Dennis A. Kendel Distinguished Service Award from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. Dr. Shaw continues to practice clinically as a critical-care physician in Saskatoon.

Dr. Shaw says her position as Chief Medical Officer with the SHA allows her to not only have a front-row seat to Saskatchewan’s changing health-care environment, but to play a role in shaping those changes.

“There is so much opportunity. Things have really aligned in a very interesting way in Saskatchewan that hasn’t happened anywhere else in Canada as far as we can find,” she said. “That’s because we have excellent relationships and leadership skills within our physician community in big part thanks to the SMA, and we have this transition to transformation opportunity which really sets this role up to make a difference, and I want to give it a try.”

Teams of physician leaders are being built in all six areas of the SHA, starting with the area chiefs of staff. Dr. Shaw hopes that as these teams are more established, physicians across the province will begin to better understand what the changes in the physician leadership structure mean to them and how physicians will be better supported to lead change within the system.

“At that point that’s where I hope if you are a physician in a hospital or primary care centre or if you have your own office practice, that you will have a bigger sense of what the system is setting out to do to help make it easier for physicians to do the right thing.”

SHA building teams

After a few months on the job Dr. Shaw is beginning to settle in and feel like the SHA is on the right track, building leadership teams that place physicians in key positions across the organization. She admits the first few months would have seen a work-life balance scale tip heavily to the work side, but it is starting to even out.

“My data that supports that is my son told me, ‘You seem more relaxed.’ My family has noticed that I’m feeling a bit more comfortable. That being said I’m going to have to constantly pay attention to my personal health because there is a lot of work ahead, and physician wellness is something that we all need to constantly pay attention to.”

This is the first in a series of stories on physicians who have taken leadership positions within the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

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