Chair’s Column: Let’s get to know one another

Nov 30, 2020
Dr. Gillian Hawker
Equity, diversity and inclusion illustrationAs I write this last Chair’s Column of 2020, we are just about through the Royal College accreditation; a few more programs to go, but almost there! So, let’s take a few minutes to pause and reflect on the tremendous efforts that have gone into this review. Let’s collectively recognize our residency program directors — all 20 of them — and their outstanding program administrators who have achieved the unimaginable. An amazing job well done! Thanks, too, to Dr. Arno Kumagai, our Vice-Chair Education, who has shepherded us all along the way. Finally, a big thank you to Dr. Glen Bandiera, Dr. Linda Probyn and the PGME team, for their steadfast support of our programs and learners. Thank you all!

We are now nearing the end of 2020. If this were any other year, we would be looking forward to some rest and relaxation with friends and family over the holidays, perhaps by a beach or on a ski slope. Sadly, this year will be very different.

Despite many highlights, the past months have been challenging. Many of you, if not all, are feeling the weight, tension and fatigue of the pandemic.

On top of this, we are struggling to figure out how best to address the tremendous inequities the systemic racism that exists in our beloved Canada. 2020 will be remembered for Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven and member of the Atikamekw Nation from Manawan, Quebec, who, on September 28th, was videoed being taunted with insults by health care workers, just moments before her death. Clearly naïve, I admit that I was incredulous that this could happen here in Canada. Well, it’s now clear that not only did blatant racism negatively impact the standard of care that Ms. Echaquan received, but it does on a far too consistent basis continue to affect the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, in particular.

As you know, our department is working hard to enhance diversity and inclusion faculty and learners but, we have a way to go! Although we have seen an overall rise in the proportion of full-time faculty members that identify as women (36% in 2014; 40% in 2019), a similar rise has not been appreciated with respect to race/ethnicity. The proportion of our faculty members that identified as a person of colour or member of a visible minority was 30.8% in our 2017 faculty survey and unchanged, at 29.8%, in the 2019 survey. Whether this is reflective of the whole department is unknown as we do not have those data. I am therefore delighted that we will soon be announcing the faculty leads for Equity, Wellness and Mentorship who will work alongside Dr. Lisa Richardson, Vice-Chair Culture and Inclusion, to move our department forward.

Amidst all this, it is sometimes hard to see the way forward. This was the focus of my recent conversation via Zoom with psychologist Hedy Wald. Hedy was introduced to me by Chaim Bell after she gave a brilliant Holocaust Remembrance Day rounds at Sinai/UHN. When we chatted, I was struck by how passionately she spoke about resiliency and optimism, about shared humanity and shared consciousness about humanism in medicine. It became clearer than ever to me that what is going to get us safely and successfully through the next months, and allow us to embrace a more diverse group of colleagues and learners, will be our willingness to share our stories. Not just listen, but hear one another, see one another, and learn about one another.

When I was growing up, a common saying was that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s true. We cannot, should not, make assumptions about a human being’s lived experiences or how these experiences have shaped their views by the colour of their skin, the clothes they wear, the way they speak.

As we close the year 2020, let’s collectively make a New Year’s resolution to work even harder to create a safe space to share our stories and engage in difficult conversations. Let us hope that by doing so we can achieve our goal of creating a workplace culture in which everyone is respected, valued, included and, yes, cared for.

Please keep safe, keep well, get some fresh air and exercise to calm the mind, and we’ll chat in the New Year.