New School Year, New Hopes

September 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm


I always enjoy early September, a time when the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences buzzes with energy and anticipation.

Most of us make September resolutions. We challenge ourselves to reach higher and accomplish more in the coming year. But no matter how ambitious we are to push back the frontiers of health-care delivery, our greatest priority is to respect the dignity and personhood of each individual we encounter.

At the recent White Coat Ceremony to inaugurate the Medicine Class of 2020, Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba minister of health, seniors and active living, reminded the future physicians: “The health-care system is a very, very big system. But the most important number is the number one – that one individual who is coming to you for help. Never look past that one individual.”

In health care, we are keenly aware of the damaging effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural prejudice and other forms of discrimination on Manitobans. We must advocate for those who have faced unequal treatment and exclusion. It’s our responsibility to engage with each patient and his or her family members with the utmost empathy and caring.

A few days before the students received their white coats, I watched with millions of other Canadians as Gord Downie gave what was likely his farewell concert as lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Downie, who has terminal cancer, used the national platform of the televised concert to make a passionate plea for action to help Indigenous peoples. We in the health professions must respond to that call with force and commitment.

We must also ensure that the health-care workforce is as diverse as the population it serves. The makeup of the Class of 2020 reflects changes announced last year to the Max Rady College of Medicine’s admissions policy. To better reflect Manitoba’s diversity in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic or socio-cultural conditions and sexual orientation, we now dedicate some places in the class to qualified candidates from traditionally under-represented backgrounds.

These changes build on previous policy enhancements that addressed under-representation of students of Indigenous ancestry and from rural backgrounds.

Such formal initiatives are vital to our progress. But it is just as vital that we live the commitment to inclusion in our everyday dealings with patients, their families, and colleagues whose backgrounds are different from our own. Think about what Downie told the CBC about the impoverished First Nations community of Attawapiskat, Ontario: “They call it a fly-in, fly-out community. But maybe we should listen to the stories coming out of there.”

Don’t just “fly in and fly out” in your daily interactions. Take the time to recognize that everyone has a story. As Réal Cloutier, vice-president of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, told this year’s new medical students: “Warmth, understanding and compassion are as much your tools as knowledge of human physiology, a scalpel or a prescription. Listen, be respectful and be present.”

What is your inclusion resolution for this academic year?