Harnessing hope and optimism at CCPL2023  

Shannon Fraser, MD, Colleen Galasso, 

and Deirdre McKennirey

With the COVID pandemic a little further away in our rearview mirror, physician leaders from coast to coast to coast gathered in Vancouver on 26 – 27 May for the Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership. Under the theme “Healing our Health System: Leadership for Renewal,” we came together with a shared spirit and commitment to revitalize health care.

From the opening blessing by Elder Doris Fox, who inspired and challenged attendees, to the last keynote, a renewed sense of hope and optimism infused the conference. 

The opening speaker, Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, executive director of Cascades Institute at Royal Roads University, literally talked about hope and how it must be a key leadership competency in a time of crisis. In his book Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, he stresses that hope is essential for leadership — if we can’t inspire hope, we can’t lead. However, our traditional perception of hope needs to be reimagined; instead of seeing it as false, naïve, and passive, we must view hope as honest, astute, and powerful. To leverage hope in leadership, we must shift from the position of “hope THAT…” to “hope TO….” This shift in mindset pushes us to create our vision of a desirable future and to be active participants in making that vision a reality. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry, reflecting on her own experience leading in a time of crisis, delivered an emotional address on remaining resilient during very challenging times. She talked about how the pandemic tested both her spirit and her leadership. She did not lose hope, but instead held fast to the power that kindness, compassion, and integrity hold in times of crisis, imploring participants to “respond to unrelenting uncertainty with unrelenting kindness” and to “always take the high road; it’s peaceful up there because there aren’t many people.” 

Dr. Alika Lafontaine, CMA’s president, opened day 2 of the conference with an insightful presentation on mobilizing change. To lead change, we need to go beyond the repeated cycles of denial, resistance, and status quo. According to Dr. Lafontaine, the reason systems stay the same is because the mental models on which they are built — the information, beliefs, and ideas we form from our experiences — remain the same. However, there is hope for change because people can change. The role of leadership, he insisted, is to motivate and move people to new mental models, which will translate into a new system and a new status quo.

Dr. Victoria Sweet, author of the book Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing, gave a provocative presentation on how to make modern medicine better. The health care pendulum has swung from the personal to the efficient (EMRs, electronic forms) to the inefficient (more administration, less time interacting with patients). She contends that medicine needs to return to the personal where physicians are given more time to spend with their patients so that they can identify and remove any barriers impeding the patient’s healing or, as she terms it, provide “slow medicine.” Dr. Sweet does not dismiss the fact that we need fast medicine (treatments that fix, repair, or replace), but it must be complemented with slow medicine to return it to the personal and effective profession it is at heart. 

Of course, any discussion on healing and renewing our health system must address politics, which is involved in all aspects of health care from jurisdictions to institutions, funding, systems, and service delivery. Moderated by Dr. Kathleen Ross, four passionate and astute physician leaders (Drs. Eric Cadesky, Ramneek Dosanjh, Gigi Osler, and Dietrich Furstenburg) debated whether politics is a barrier that constrains change or a bridge that facilitates it. At the conclusion of the debate, participants felt that it was neither purely bridge nor barrier, but both. Irrespective of this outcome, a conference participant commented on Twitter: “Listening to the panelists makes me optimistic for the future.”

Each year on day 1, the conference celebrates recipients of the Canadian Certified Physician Executive (CCPE) credential in an award ceremony, with family and friends on hand to support their loved ones. This credential, which is based on the LEADS framework, recognizes and advances physician leadership and excellence through a national, peer-generated, standards-based assessment process. Notably, for the first time since the CCPE’s inception, more female than male applicants qualified. Congratulations to our 11 deserving recipients!

Rounding out the conference program were 22 unique workshops offered in four concurrent sessions. Facilitated by expert instructors, these interactive workshops provided participants with the opportunity to learn about system-enhancing initiatives as well as improve their leadership skills.

Although registration was down from pre-pandemic levels, that did not mute the excitement or buzz of conversations. You could see that people were longing to reconnect, share, and learn from each other. In fact, several people asked that we find ways to add more networking opportunities in future. 

Using the valuable feedback received, the conference Planning Committee is hard at work developing the program for CCPL2024 under the theme “Shifting the Paradigm.” Join us 24–25 May 2024 in Montréal and get inspired and empowered to make a real impact in transforming Canada’s health care system.

Dr. Shannon Fraser is CSPL President and Chair, CCPL Planning Committee, as well as Chief General Surgery and Medical Director, C4 Command Centre, Jewish General Hospital, CIUSSS CODIM.