Nov. 12, 2020

Virtual fall Representative Assembly hears commitments of support for physicians during pandemic, need to tackle racism

Supporting physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing racism within the medical profession were two major themes explored by delegates to the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s 2020 Fall Representative Assembly (RA).

The RA was held virtually on Oct. 30-31 due to the pandemic. Usually physicians from across the province gather to meet in person twice a year for the SMA’s spring and fall RAs, but this fall’s plans were changed due to the pandemic, which was never far from delegates’ minds.

SMA president Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz, a Regina family physician, thanked physicians for their hard work meeting the challenges of caring for their patients during uncertain and changing times.

“I know the significant stresses you are facing,” she said during her president’s address. “Thank you for your dedication…. We are all in this together for sure, and more and more it seems we’re in it together for the longer term.”

Support is available for physicians who feel in distress through the SMA’s Physician Health Program and the CMA’s help line, she noted.

“Social contact is a huge buffer to manage the stress of these times,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said. “We are all limited in what we can do. The isolation of winter plus the stresses still to come means we all need support….Your family doctor, and the teams at the SMA and the CMA, are there to bring in the right resources for you and your family. As resilient as you all are, you can probably use some support.”

The SMA is also supporting physicians during the pandemic by ensuring they receive adequate compensation for the care they provide, and the costs involved such as PPE, she said. This includes exploring alternative supports for physicians who may need to self-isolate or receive care for COVID-19 exposure.

“We continue to have conversations with government, on your behalf. We commit to working with the Ministry of Health to ensure that all the care you provide is appropriately compensated. We recognize the current situation regarding funding PPE and are quite aware of the challenges of the economy,” she said.

Bylaws and SMA governance

Dr. Konstantynowicz also touched on two matters that were topics of later sessions of the RA – practitioner staff bylaws and SMA governance.

Work on practitioner staff bylaws is progressing, and the bylaws have been approved by the Ministry of Health as “interim.” Dr. Konstantynowicz noted this designation is crucial because the bylaws are “imperfect and incomplete. More needs to be done, including ensuring that they reflect the new realities that COVID-19 has brought to us and the joint accountability that we share.”

During the later RA session, Dr. Allan Woo, former SMA president and a member of the SMA’s Bylaws Working Group, said discussions have been ongoing on bylaws since the formation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) three years ago. He agreed the interim bylaws are “imperfect” as the SHA has ideas on what it wants to include and the SMA has differing ideas in some areas. He said the SMA will continue to seek clarity leading to a better understanding by both sides of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

In her address to the RA, Dr. Konstantynowicz noted the SMA’s regional medical association system dates to the former organization of the health system, with its 12 regions. As these regions no longer exist, replaced by a single health authority, it is time to discuss possible governance replacement structures, she said.

Dr. John Gjevre, SMA honorary treasurer and Saskatoon RMA president, opened the RA discussion on SMA regional governance. He was followed by Drs. Briane Scharfstein, consultant to the SMA; Phillip Fourie, deputy medical health officer for the SHA; and Sean Groves, RMA president.

Dr. Gjevre said regional medical associations are perceived by physicians to have value, and there is a concern that under a single health authority physician voices might get lost. Now that the SHA has been filling leadership positions and has developed a system of health networks, the SMA should begin its discussions on how it wants to reorganize.

Dr. Scharfstein made a presentation to delegates and gathered feedback. He said after further research and consultations, proposed SMA structures will be presented at the 2021 Spring Representative Assembly.

SMA’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

In her address to delegates, Dr. Konstantynowicz noted a conversation has begun among the SMA Board of Directors about inequity, diversity, and inclusion in the profession. A subcommittee of the board has been formed to look at options and opportunities to create positive change.

“We will have to listen, to learn, and be humble in conversations with each other. We will need to respect each other’s experiences and perspectives,” she said.

A session at the RA was devoted to the issue as the SMA subcommittee sought guidance from physicians. Some members of the subcommittee have attended anti-racism workshops and virtual seminars. Some are researching the subject to further understand anti-racism efforts and what shape those might take. RA delegates heard the subcommittee has only begun its work and is committed to consulting with physicians in the future.

Sessions and awards

Brenda Senger, director, Physician Support Programs for the SMA, and Jessica Richardson, clinical coordinator, Physician Health Program based in Regina, made a presentation to delegates entitled: “Dealing with Uncertainty and Chronicity & Coping with Distress.” They provided tips for dealing with uncertainty and chronicity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and coping strategies physicians can try to minimize their stress.

Other RA session presenters were Dr. Brian Brownbridge, president of the College of Physician and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, who was accompanied by Dr. Karen Shaw, registrar of the college; and Dr. Preston Smith, dean of the College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan.

Awards and honours

Numerous awards and honours were announced at the 2020 Spring RA. These include:

Appreciation Awards:

  • Dr. Siva Karunakaran – SMA Board of Directors, 2012-20
  • Dr. Guruswamy Sridhar – Chair, Medical Compensation Review Committee, 2012-20; CMA representative to the Board of Directors, 2014-20

Award of Merit:

  • Dr. Allan Woo, SMA president, 2019-20

Honorary memberships in the Canadian Medical Association:

  • Dr. Peter Butt
  • Ed Hobday
  • Dr. Beverley Karras
  • Dr. Tom Smith-Windsor

SMA Leadership Awards (click here for more on recipients):

  • Dr. Veronica McKinney, SMA Physician Leader of the Year
  • Dr. Emmett Harrison, SMA Resident Leader of the Year
  • Kate Morrison, SMA Student Leader of the Year

2020 SMA Physician of the Year (click here for more on Dr. Datta):

  • Dr. Biswa Datta

The SMA’s 2021 Spring Representative Assembly has been scheduled for May 7-8 at a location to be determined.

I know the significant stresses you are facing. Thank you for your dedication…. We are all in this together for sure, and more and more it seems we’re in it together for the longer term.

Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz

President, Saskatchewan Medical Association

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