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Dr. Kevin Wasko brings medical training, policy knowledge to new SHA position

Dr. Kevin Wasko is a self-described policy wonk from small-town Saskatchewan who also has a medical degree.

It’s no surprise, then, that he finds himself on the executive leadership team with the Saskatchewan Health Authority as Physician Executive, Integrated Rural Health.

“I’ve always been interested in the administrative side of medicine and health care and was actually involved in those capacities prior to going to medical school. However, I didn’t think I would pursue a role like this at any time early in my career, definitely not at this stage,” Dr. Wasko told the SMA.

Dr. Wasko received a BA from Dalhousie University and an MA from the University of Calgary, both in political science. He worked in the office of Don McMorris when the Saskatchewan Party MLA was health minister, but left to go to medical school. He received his MD from the University of Calgary in 2011 and completed his family medicine residency in Swift Current, which is where he currently practises and which is close to his childhood home of Eastend.

Dr. Wasko, a former member of the Saskatchewan Medical Association board, was a physician co-lead with Dr. Bruce Murray of the transition team that was charged in 2017 with planning the move to a single health authority for the province. He became interested in his current job when the roles with the SHA were being fleshed out in the planning process. He joined the SHA on December 4, 2017, the day it began operations.

“I decided to pursue the opportunity because I thought it was something that I’d really like to see through in terms of some of the work that I started in my role on the transition team, and I think that it’s a unique opportunity to launch a whole new health system in the province. It may not come again,” Dr. Wasko said.

“This opportunity seems like an opportune marriage of my backgrounds, being able to use that policy knowledge and know-how and also being able to provide the medical lens and expertise that I have as a physician.

“I thought it really is a great way to be able to use all the education and experiences that I’ve had.”

He is based in Swift Current and works for the SHA from Monday to Thursday. He also continues to works shifts in the emergency department, deliver babies on weekends and cover occasionally for colleagues in a family practice clinic.

Close to home

In planning the SHA the intent was to implement a distributed leadership model, with leaders scattered throughout the province. That is the way it has worked out on the executive leadership team with both physicians and health administrators. Dr. Wasko notes people weren’t required to move to a bigger centre to fulfil their new roles, which was crucial for him.

“It was important that I be able to stay here and not uproot my family,” he said. “I’m familiar with this community and I’m familiar with the physician community that I work with here on the clinical side. Being able to keep that pretty stable is nice when I’m taking on such a whole new role on the other side of things.”

Going forward physicians should expect that physicians’ voice to be valued during discussions on strategic directions for the SHA, and that physicians will be truly integrates into the decision-making of the health-care system.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Dr. Wasko said. “I sense that physicians, all health-care workers, are cautiously optimistic about the opportunities that one single health authority can bring and I think that there’s reason to be cautious and there’s reason to be optimistic. We’re charting unknown territory, but we do have the best of intentions to make the system a better system.”

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

Click here to see: Dr. Susan Shaw brings clinical experience to the SHA boardroom

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