Nov. 16, 2023

SMA president Dr. Annette Epp highlights stabilization funding for family medicine, addressing racism in medicine at 2023 Fall RA

Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) president Dr. Annette Epp was pleased to hear the announcement of $20 million in stabilization funding for community-based, fee-for-service family physicians made at the 2023 Fall Representative Assembly.

Health Minister Everett Hindley announced the stabilization funding in his address to delegates on Friday, Nov. 3, the opening day of the two-day RA. Dr. Epp said the announcement indicates the government recognizes that family medicine is in dire straits.

“There are many other issues in medicine in Saskatchewan, but at the forefront are the challenges facing family medicine,” she said.

President’s address

In her address to the RA, Dr. Epp negotiations are underway between the SMA’s Negotiations Committee and the Ministry of Health on a new compensation agreement for Saskatchewan physicians. The previous five-year agreement expired on March 31, 2022.

The two sides share an urgency to address the compensation challenges that all Saskatchewan physicians are facing. There is also broad agreement that family medicine is the foundation of the health care system. Family physicians want innovative compensation models that reflect the complexity and breadth of the work they do, Dr. Epp said. A new family medicine payment model is a central component of the SMA’s position in negotiations with the Ministry.

Dr. Epp also noted an important highlight of her term to date has been work the SMA has done to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion within the profession, such as presenting the conference Uncovering Racism in Medicine: A Pathway Forward on Sept. 22. The conference heard speakers and attendees share their personal and often difficult stories of racism and discrimination they have experienced, and what they continue to experience.

“Racism has no place in medicine – I and the SMA are clear on that point. We all are,” Dr. Epp said. “The conference was troubling at times, but one theme emerged for me – one of hope. No matter our role in the health system, whether we work in private practice or in a health care facility, no matter what we do or how we work, physicians can be agents of change. That seems like a tall order, on top of the other demands of our jobs. But we must act to stamp out racism where we see it. It is our duty and obligation.”

Physician of the Year, Service Award, leadership awards

Dr. Nawal Sharma was honoured to receive the 2023 Physician of the Year Award. “It was a great surprise to learn that I had been selected for this award by the SMA,” Dr. Sharma said. “I have served as an internist in Saskatoon for nearly 40 years. This has been a wonderful experience. I am most grateful for the opportunity to serve the province of Saskatchewan.” Dr. Sharma is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and has practised as a general internist in Saskatoon since 1984.

Longtime Regina physician and former SMA president Dr. Guruswamy Sridhar was announced as the recipient of the inaugural SMA Service Award. “It is an honour to be nominated and selected for the award,” said Dr. Sridhar. “The award is not for me, but for my colleagues who supported me over the years, with particular support of colleagues on the SMA board and SMA administrative staff.” Dr. Sridhar served on the SMA Board of Directors from 2004 to 2011, including a term as president in 2010-11. He was chair of the Medical Compensation Review Committee, which delivered the previous five-year agreement with the government, and served on numerous SMA committees.

Outstanding achievement in leading the province’s medical community was recognized with the presentation of three leadership awards. The recipients are:

  • 2023 Physician Leader of the Year: Dr. Jon Witt
  • 2023 Resident Leader of the Year: Dr. Angela Silveira
  • 2023 Student Leader of the Year: Nina Wingate

SMA Strategic Plan

Dr. Epp presented the draft 2023-27 SMA Strategic Plan, which was approved by delegates at the 2023 Fall RA. The plan states:

  • Our Vision: Healthy, engaged, and empowered physicians leading the provision of high-quality patient care and building healthy communities.

  • Our Purpose: Advance the economic, personal, and professional wellbeing of Saskatchewan physicians.

  • Our Goals:
    • Ensure physicians are fairly compensated.
    • Improve physicians’ health and wellbeing.
    • Deliver exceptional service to and for members.

Workplace wellbeing

Blayn Nienaber, SMA Workplace Wellbeing Consultant, made a presentation at the RA entitled Workplace Wellbeing. He noted a total of 110 workplace wellbeing cases were opened from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2023, with 72 resolved and 37 case currently being managed.

He told delegates that everyone deals with conflict, including physicians. Good communication is needed to work through conflicts, while the skills needed to deal with conflict are listening, feeling, and speaking, he said.

Minister of Health’s address

Everett Hindley, Minister of Health, and Tim McLeod, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors, and Rural and Remote Health, addressed the RA, making the following points:

  • The government has heard about the challenges of sustaining family medicine and announces $20 million in stabilization funding to community-based fee-for-service family physicians to help family physicians stabilize their practices.

  • The government is aware that physicians are currently working without a new contract. Negotiations are progressing well and Minister Hindley expects “good news” to report soon.

  • The Ministry continues to support health care, with the 2023 budget containing the largest investment in health in the province’s history. Included are investments in education including the creation of a four-year medical degree program in Regina and an increase in funding residency seats, support for family medicine and work toward a new blended capitation compensation model, the formation of the Saskatchewan Healthcare Recruitment Agency, the creation of a physician assistants training program, and funding for new international medical graduates.

CPSS report

Dr. Alan Beggs, president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS), spoke to delegates on the activities of the college:

  • Physician assistants can be given independence, but they must work under a supervision plan, with a physician signed on as a registered supervisor.

  • Alternate dispute resolutions between the college and a physician often allow a physician to avoid a formal charge of professional misconduct, reduce the time for resolving a complaint, reduce interruptions to a physician’s practice, and are generally targeted to redirect behavior rather than impose punitive action.

Draft legislation has been released affecting self-regulated professions, including the SMA and CPSS. Stakeholder feedback has not been sought by the government nor responded to when it has been offered.

There are many other issues in medicine in Saskatchewan, but at the forefront are the challenges facing family medicine.

Dr. Annette Epp, SMA president

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